XCovid-19:Important Updates for Worship, Church Operations and Staying ConnectedRead more

Sermon Archives

Holy Circular Time

Katie Omberg
Sun, Nov 30

Text: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; Mark 13:24-37

Please, be with me in prayer.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you O God. Amen.

I’d like to start with a little story about my own personal Annunciation (when the angel Gabriel came to Mary, telling her that she would bear a son who would be the savior), which happens every year, about Nov. 15, in CVS. For some reason, CVS is where this always happens for me: I walk in to buy a drink or fill a prescription, and just as Gabriel snuck up on Mary without warning, so too does the Christmas display sneak up on me. And it never is an Advent display, is it? Sure there might be the odd chocolate calendar there, but it’s resolutely a “Christmas Display.” And not only is it a Christmas display, but it’s always this weird sort of nostalgic thing; there’s pictures of sleighs and teddy bears and white nuclear families gathered around fireplaces, pictures of a past many of us have never known, but that we may yearn for, without knowing exactly why.

I find this idea of nostalgia really intriguing, and I can see the writers of all three of our readings for today trying to work through their own communities’ sense of melancholic yearning. I see in this reminiscing a human translation of a Divine circular timeline. This cyclical nature is found in today’s Psalm, the reading from Isaiah and the snippet from Mark, but is also found in the church’s liturgical calendar, where Advent is a period of waiting for something that happened, in linear time, 2,000 or so years ago. Every year we get a chance to prepare, once again, for something big, something that taps into our deepest longings and overflows with that tinge of nostalgia.

The Psalm we read together this morning comes from a section of the Book of Psalms written around 722 BCE, at a trying time for the northern tribes of the Jewish people. All around them, the powerful Assyrian Empire was taking over territory and encroaching upon their own lands. The Psalmist writes to God, imploring the divine to again shine the holy face upon the people, a language that at the time was equivalent to asking for God to show up, saying to God “Come to us again, come now like you have before.”

The lyrical oracle from the book of Isaiah is written in Palestine, after something called the Babylonian Exile, which sounds about as menacing as it was. This exile is where, in the mid-500s BCE, the Jewish lands were taken over by Babylon and the Israelites taken captive into Babylon, only to return a generation later, after their ancestral lands had been ravaged. These displaced peoples are looking for a return of the divine to their lives. Similar to the psalmist who asks God to shine the Divine countenance back upon God’s people, so too does the prophet in Isaiah suggest that the people have gone too long without seeing the smile of the Divine parental face.  Again, the pleading has something to do with time, as in, “its about time, God.  Time to reset that age-old cycle! We’re waiting here!”

Both the Psalm and the reading from Isaiah write about times where God has been present with humanity, but speak to a current context wherein God is seemingly absent. And yet, through all of this tumult, the people don’t turn their backs on God, and this is the part that I find spiritually compelling. Instead of giving up on God, they ask God to show up, to show God’s face. They are betting on a cyclical timetable where God’s presence will once again be known. It requires a fair amount of faith to ask God to come back, faith not only that God will return, but also a faith that God will even hear these prayers.

This hope against hope, that God will return, will come back, will show up again, is one that many of us in this community and across the country have felt over the past months, and more pointedly in the past week, when a jury of our very own peers refused to indict a white police officer in the killing of an unarmed black high schooler. In light of holy cyclical time, this past week has brought to mind other unholy memories of racist histories in this “city on a hill” of a country. It also brings us back to a deep sense of yearning – for salvation, for healing, for justice, and additionally  for the capacity to see God’s image in every face and in every body, white, brown, yellow or black.  We are yearning for God to show up in humanity, in humans themselves, as church would put it, “in the flesh.” Somehow, Advent’s wait for a Godly human seems right on time this year.

And so, we wait. We wait for God to show up, just as our spiritual ancestors did. We wait because many of us know we have felt God’s presence before, and just as our spiritual ancestors, we cast our prayers into the ether, in (hopefully) patient hope and lasting expectation that God will answer.

The cycle of Divine presence and absence continues. We see this coming and going of God highlighted again in the Gospel reading for today, where we meet Jesus talking with four of his disciples on the Mount of Olives, a hill that lay across the valley from the Temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus tells us that at some time in the future, God will be so near as to be “At the very gates!” This image elides effortlessly with the follow-up story of the ever-watchful doorkeeper. This doorkeeper is commanded by Jesus to keep awake three separate times in the short parable, really hitting the disciples at his feet over the head with the moral of the story, which is, unsurprisingly, to keep awake.

 So I ask: what does the hopefully well-rested doorkeeper mean for us, and for Advent? What does it mean to keep awake at this time?

To stay awake, in this liturgical context, might mean to stay awake to what exactly this season is. Advent is its own thing, it’s not just a long, drawn-out Christmas, as much as TV commercials and store windows would like to have us think it is. It is a time to keep awake, to stay aware, and to get ready. But, keep in mind, it’s not a frenetic preparation Jesus asks of the doorkeeper, but just to be vigilant, that is the only ask he makes of her. To keep an eye out, to keep watch, to be present. Sometimes, this presence might be difficult. But Advent is a time to be honest about our pains and sufferings, all the while wishing again for divine reassurance that God continually shows up, shows up at the hospice bedside, at the protest, on the street, and that this “showing up” is something God does through us in the Spirit. And it is something that God did in Jesus 2,000 years ago, something that we are waiting for this very day.

Which is kind of funny, right? To wish for something that has happened long ago? But maybe this ask for God to show up, is not just asking for a return of the long-dead human of Jesus (sorry to spoil the plot there), but a return of the Divine nature that inhabited him.

In this way, Christmas is not a birth but a rebirth. A time where again and again, every year, we are able to recount a time when God entered into the world and has shown God’s face upon us. The story of Christmas is similar to the “good old days” described in Isaiah, back when God’s manifestation was felt so immediately and immensely that the very mountains shook. Maybe you yourself have had moments of this deep, mystical Divine encounter.

Advent is a time that allows us to look back to these occasions, while taking stock of our current situation and then, finally, Advent allows us to look forward with hope that God will again act in the world. It’s a reminder to always be on the lookout and to stay awake, for God may be showing up at any minute, in any action, in any protest, in any conversation, at the very gates!!!

 And so today, I would like to close with a short prayer:

 

O God of justice,

Return to us again this Advent season
Your people wait for you,
Even when we have doubts that you hear us.
Come again, as you did 2000 years ago
And as you have countless times since.
Amen

 

Looking for ways to support our community during this unprecedented time of need? The Missions and Social Justice Committee has compiled and vetted a short list of organizations looking for assistance to aid in their work in the COVID-19 response...

In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Shelter has expanded into Sage Hall to allow for greater social distancing, and is now open to guests around the clock, thanks to additional funding from the Commonwealth. They would very much welcome...