06 December 2008

endings

Isaiah 64:1-9, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down . . . ."

You know, we have a distinct advantage here at this first Sunday of Advent. We know what is coming. We know the end of this story. We know that the angels will come to Mary and Joseph. We know that John the Baptist will be born to prepare the way of the Lord. We know that this couple will end up in Bethlehem.

It is a lot like the character Billy Crystal played in When Harry Met Sally.

Have you seen this movie? Billy Crystal plays the character Harry. It’s a romantic comedy so you sort of know how it is going to end, right? If you haven’t seen it I don’t think that I’m stepping out a limb here to let you know that eventually, Harry and Sally end up together. But one of the more peculiar things that Harry tells Sally pretty early on, before they supposedly see those sparks of love for each other, is that Harry, whenever he reads a book will flip to the end of it and read the last chapter first.

That’s right! According to Harry, he does this so that in the event that he should die prior to finishing this book, he will at least know the ending.

It is almost a joke on us who are watching the movie. We too are like Harry in that we know that Harry and Sally will end up together at the end of this journey, despite the fights and troubles along the way. We do not even have to take the time to read the last chapter to know how this movie will end. But you see, Sally argues with Harry that it just ruins the adventure of reading the book to know the ending before you even start it.

Where’s the suspense? Where’s the intrigue? Where’s the fun in the process of reading the book when you know what the end is going to be before you read the first chapter?

Thinking about this passage from Isaiah, part of me wonders where the fun is in reading some of these painful laments that we find in a great many of the Psalms and in the writing of the prophets. Where’s the fun in reading about a crisis in the life of the people of Israel when we would much rather skip on over to the final chapter where we have the sweet baby Jesus and the shepherds and the star?

But our scripture readings for this first Sunday in Advent start here. This first Sunday speaks an impassioned cry for God to save the Israelites from their captivity and exile in the land of Babylonia. Frankly, I’m with Harry; let’s skip to the end.

But this scripture does not allow us to skip to the end. Our scripture is a plea for God to rip open the heavens and come down because things don’t look so good for us down here. This is a cry for the mountains to shake and the land to tremble. The prophet is calling on this warrior God to show up and trample the enemies underneath those massive Godly feet.

This is a cry for death and destruction to the enemies . . . but that is not what happens.

As so often happens in our own lives, we cry for God to change things. We beg for God to do something. We just want God to change that person in our lives that will not do what we want them to do. We beg God for better lives, more obedient children, good jobs. “God, why don’t you just come down here and do something about this problem that I am having!”

And then . . . and then the tone of this passage changes to one of confession. Instead of telling God what to do, the prophet acknowledges that as a community, the children of Israel have sinned. Just like we as a church have failed to be obedient. Just as we as individuals have not done God’s will. We have at time not loved our neighbors. We have not heard the cry of the needy. All of us have done these things or failed to do things that we should have.

The prophet says that God has hidden God’s face from the people, because they continually chose their own will and did not make room for God. Since there was no room there, the prophet says that God left.

It sounds vaguely familiarto me. Like the holy family with a pregnant Mary being told that there is just no room in the inn.

Well, as a family we have been preparing rooms. As a lot of you may have done this weekend, we pulled out boxes of decorations, we put up the tree, we began readying our home for Christmas. Getting ready for this holiday means preparation right? If you are having guests, you want to make sure that you have enough room and enough supplies and enough food for everyone, right? We unpacked the nativity sets that we have from Israel and from Norway. We pulled out our Advent wreath that we use in our home and restocked its candles. We made a lot of progress towards getting ready for Christmas.

This season that we are in, the season of Advent, is that type of time, a time of preparation. It is a time that all of us are to make a space in our homes and in our lives. So often our lives become filled with so much busyness during this season, a busyness that can fill that space that we need to create and protect.

But making room in our lives for God is essential. This is a time of ensuring that there is room in our lives for the Christ child to be born in us.

After all, we know that Jesus is born. It is like knowing the end of the story before we begin, like Harry reading the last chapter of a novel. But the danger for us during this time is not taking the journey to get there, skipping over the difficult parts, neglecting to create the space, to make room for the miracle to occur again.

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