Thursday, November 30, 2017

December 3, Advent 1. Come Lord Jesus: Wait, Wait for It!

Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

If we say that Christ is coming, and that we must wait for it and watch for it, that means that Christ is absent in some way. In some measure he is not here. Is that true? And if we also say that in Christ is God, does that mean that in some measure God is absent, God is not here?

But isn’t God everywhere? The God of philosophy is not absent. The God of Descartes and Leibniz and Kant and Hegel is not absent, he just pretty much minds his own business and does his philosophical job. If the God of Karl Marx and Jean-Paul Sartre is absent it’s because there is no God. For Muslims, Allah is not absent in any way. For Hindus, God’s absence is impossible because God is in whatever is. “It is what it is.”

But one thing that Jesus Christ never said was, “It is what it is.” He told us that the world is not as it should be, that what is should be otherwise and will be otherwise, that there is more to come, that even though God is here God is not fully here, not on earth as in heaven, and that he himself will come again. So wait for it, don’t impatiently click off the youtube video, wait for it!

Maybe it’s not that God is absent but that God is hidden. Hidden in the heavens! Such that Isaiah implores, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” So then is God’s hiding self-imposed, or is it that our sinful condition makes us blind to God? Isaiah suggests it is both: “There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you, for you have hidden your face from us, and delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.” If both are true, then God has to initiate God’s self-revelation and we have to repent in order to see God’s self-revelation.

Let’s say that God is hidden in plain sight. We can say that the almighty God behaves in the world as weak and powerless. Well, is that a dodge? Is that an excuse for all our unanswered prayers? Or rather that God does not act on our behest? God does not act powerfully to our satisfaction or expectations. God is not accountable to our philosophy or agendas. We don’t possess God, we don’t control God, and God’s self-hiding we have to understand a a kind of judgment. The very hiddenness of God in the world puts under judgment whatever we think we see about the world.

Can something be visible but also false? I think of the videos retweeted by the President. Can something be hidden and also true? Well, the Christian claim about the world is that much that is visible is not true. The Christian claim is that we see the same world as everybody else, but we see it differently, that so much of what’s visible, what people take as obvious, we take as not so true, not the full truth, and even false. The Christian claim is that the way to see the world truly is to see what looks obvious in terms of what is hidden, and to see that which is visible only to repentance.

I am talking about repentance as a kind of sight. This a different side of repentance than we do in Lent, that other penitential season, which is a repentance of self-examination, and sorrow, and even mortification. The repentance of Advent is more objective, more outward, not self-examination but hyper-sensitivity, not mortification but pregnancy, the opposite. In the words of St. Paul, an enrichment, a gift of speech and knowledge, a spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of Our Lord. Wait for it!

I’m talking about repentance as the kind of sight required to see what is only revealed. And what today we want to see, this first Sunday of Advent, this season of God’s coming, is not so much the presence of God, philosophically, but the coming of God dynamically, even historically, into our lives, the coming of God in Jesus Christ, the mystery available only to the sensitivity of repentance.

Last Sunday I said that the second coming of Christ will not be so much a traveling as an unveiling, an unveiling of the end that is already there, in the future where the Lord Jesus already is. Does that make any sense? Is that all metaphor or has it got some grounding for reality? Is this what St. Paul means in the epistle, that we are waiting for the revealing of Our Lord Jesus Christ? Is the revealing like an unveiling that he must do? How long must we watch? How long must we wait?

Two Sundays ago I said that in the Bible, time is conceived of differently than among us modern people. We think of time in Cartesian terms, as a kind of space, extended infinitely both behind us and before us, and we move our lives through the space of time on our time-lines point by point. I said that in the Bible time itself is moving, like a river, a stream, a wave that we ride upon, and that time is moving toward a goal, the goal of God, which is already there.

Bible-time is like a piece of music, that when you sing it, it carries you along until you reach its final cadences. Bible-time is like a video, a movie, an opera, which moves you as you watch it. Right now we’re in the second act, and a drama is unfolding looking bad, and only in the third act will the full tragedy be unveiled, like Tosca, or, maybe, like Falstaff, when a reversal into comedy is revealed.

You don’t watch an opera to find out how it ends, you already know how it ends. You watch an opera to see what you can see only when you’re within it. You know what’s coming, wait for it, wait for it. Not waiting as in a waiting room, but waiting as the kind of watching that we do in Advent.

The way that God is hidden is the same way that the third act is hidden from the second act. We can’t see it yet because some things have to happen before we get there, things have to develop before the potential tragedy unveils itself as comedy. The Lord Jesus has not yet taken the stage in the way that he will when we arrive there. Stay with it. Keep watching along. Wait for it.

Today I invite you to this watching and waiting that we can call “repentance” because of its operative humility. You take yourself off your own stage. You shut up and listen. You submit to the story, no matter how unlikely or extreme. You suspend your right to your disbelief. You surrender to the story and its music. You suspend your agenda and your right to your time. Wait for it! It is humility at the same time as it’s empowerment. It’s repentance with an undercurrent of joy, the joy of anticipation, like pregnancy instead of mortification, like waiting for a birth instead of a death, like Advent instead of Lent.

If God seems absent, or hidden, it’s because God chooses to enter the world in ways that look weak and powerless. There is a method to God’s madness. It’s first to allow for your own empowerment, even to require it, and second that your empowerment be of love, for love is your natural response to someone who is faithful to you but comes to you weak and powerless. The method in God’s madness is love. “O God, because I want to love you I will wait for you and watch for you as long as you take.” Because God waits for you and God watches for you because God loves you.

Copyright © 2017 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

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