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Advent Sunday, Year B

Advent Expectations

Readings: Isaiah 63:16-64:8; Psalm 80:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:32-37

The French philosopher, Pascal, wrote, "There is a God-shaped piece of emptiness inside everyone." How true that is! We all live with expectations for our own well being and that of our children. Don’t we all long for fulfillment? That longing is very much reflected in the mood of the Advent season. As Christians, we know there is something incomplete in our lives. We search for meaning. We yearn for inner peace. We hunger for an intimate relationship with a personal God. We seek an end to the hunger in our souls. We keep searching, trusting that God will transform us and fill the emptiness in our lives.

It is a feeling of expectation that transcends time and space. You can hear it in Isaiah’s prayer of lamentation. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence,” he calls out to God. He is filled with a sense of longing, a longing for God to do something so strange, so wonderful, so beyond human expectation, that there will be no reason for anyone to doubt God’s power. He sees the destruction around him. He knows the deep sense of discouragement that pervades the lives of the people of Israel. God seems so far away. He longs for a personal God, a God involved in every aspect of his life, present with him through all the hardships, persecution and difficulty. Then he has an ‘aha’ moment. He recognizes how God is revealed to us. That beautiful, intimate image of the potter and the clay comes to him. He sees those magnificent hands of God working the clay, molding, shaping, and reshaping the people in God's own beautiful image. He sees the deepening and intimate relationship that is possible with a God who is with us and in us.

That kind of longing, that spiritual hunger, is reflected in our secular world. People may deny the very existence of God. Yet they still seek ways of filling the emptiness that eats away at them. People are hungry for something that will bring meaning to their lives. That is why there are so many destructive ways in which people seek fulfillment – alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling. The list could go on. Even when people seek spiritual ways of fulfillment, they do not often turn to the institutional church. So often they are simply alienated by what they see as an archaic and meaningless exercise. Perhaps it is not unlike Isaiah's first reaction, which was to question God about motives. You will hear from people, “If there is a God out there, why don’t you do something about state of the world?” Why do you let terrorists bomb innocent people in Mumbai? Why do innocent children die of hunger every day?” They don’t want to wait in expectation. They don’t want to listen for God’s direction. They don’t want to be active participants in the coming of God’s kingdom. Rather, they want a God who will bring about transformation of their state of being through the miraculous. They want to see awesome deeds. They think they will find fulfillment in materialistic ways.

It is evident to me that it is the case when I listen to some television evangelists. “The problem with us,” they will say, “is that we don’t expect enough of God. Don’t just ask for what you need. Ask for everything you want.” They go on to say that if we send them money it will come back to us tenfold. And people buy it, because they are seeking to fill the emptiness in their lives. They are searching for an intimate relationship with the spiritual world. Yet there is something so off base about what is offered. The search becomes idolatry, for what is offered is fulfillment through materialism rather than an entry into the presence of God. Such people will go on to relate how great wealth has come to them simply by asking God to fulfill their needs.

I don't know about you. But that is not how I find spiritual fulfillment. It is wonderful to live in a land of plenty. I don't personally think I could feel any more fulfilled in my life by having a million dollars. At the point of our deepest longing, is not material wealth, but the very presence of God. That longing comes from God. Pascal knew it; I know it.

Contrast that approach to the way in which the people of Corinth seek inner peace and fulfillment. They face terrible conditions, poverty, slavery, brutality. Yet the Good News of the Gospel gives them a new vision and outlook for the future. They are a people waiting expectantly and with hope. They are waiting for the fulfillment of the life of grace. They are waiting until the fullness of Christ will be revealed. They are waiting not as those without hope, but with the knowledge that the gift of life in Christ is already theirs. They know that God is faithful.

We too live in a church expectant, watching with hope for Jesus' return. We, like Isaiah, may long for some miraculous and awesome display of God’s power. But the Christian is not called to wait passively. We are called to active preparation. God has put us in charge of creation.

So Jesus tells us that it is like a man travelling abroad, leaving his servants in charge. Each has their own task to accomplish. The doorkeeper is to stay awake so as not to be asleep at the return of the master, a return that might happen at any moment of the day or of the night. It is not only a matter of staying awake, but of being involved in the task set for us in this world. It is a task which will result in the fulfillment of God's promise, in the establishment of God's kingdom. God expects us to be at work, building the kingdom. That begins with our inner search for the presence of God. It begins with our own study. It begins with our life of prayer. But it calls us to reach out with the message of hope to others.

These are anxious times in the world. They are times of economic turmoil. They are also times when we recognize that terrible, violent things can happen. At a time of real questioning and soul searching, we are called to offer reassurance and hope. We are called to look to God, the potter, who will never forsake us but will continue to shape and mold us until we are all we are meant to be. We are called to bring others into the presence of God. We are called to prepare ourselves spiritually through prayer and study of God’s word. We are called to be. Amen
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