Year B; FB. Advent 1; 11.29.2020
One month into John’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis, I began to realize that chemotherapy was doing nothing to stop the spread. John’s cancer was not plateauing. One evening after we arrived home from one of his appointments, I could feel panic well up in me. I didn’t let on about the foreboding I felt. I didn’t let on that my heart was beginning to break.
I was beside myself and knew I had to stay strong to care for John. And I was still working full-time as rector of Grace Church. That evening, I heard the beep of voicemail on the rectory phone. So, I gathered myself to listen to the message. It was the voice of my friend Janice. She had been in close touch with us during our ordeal. But this call was for another reason.
I heard her voice say, “Hola Carolina. This is Juana.” We called each other by our Spanish names because we had spent time learning Spanish in Mexico as few years back! “Hola Carolina. This is Juana. I wanted to let you know that Our Savior is going to call you.”
I LOVED hearing that. “Our Savior is going to call you!” I thought, “I REALLY need to hear from ‘Our Savior’ right now! He has felt just a little hidden from me.” It was a lift to hear those words!
Actually, Janice was in a search for the rector of a parish called Our Savior and she was telling me that members of their search committee were going to call me to interview me as a reference.
But, even to this day, I still remember those words, “Our Savior is going to call you,” and I hold them close to me. When Our Savior seems out of touch, I cling to the promise that “Emmanuel, God With Us, will call and will come.”
But, in the meantime, while we wait, we shout, “Where have you been??”
I’ll admit that I have sometimes called out, “Where have you been?” I’m in good company with this cry to God. This is a common cry in Scripture. It’s called lament.
The prophet Isaiah in the reading this morning offers us a perfect lament. It starts by reminding God of all the great and saving things God had done for the people of Judah. But now, they’ve been destroyed and deported. They had known wealth. They had presided over the widened gap between those with great wealth and those living in squalor and poverty. They had spent years going through the motions of worshiping God, while living counter to the faith God had given them. Now, they were made vulnerable to a foreign power which destroyed them.
As a nation they had sinned, and they knew it.
They now ask, “You did all these great things for us then. Why are you hiding now? Where are you?”
And then, just listen to how they turn and kind of blame God. My grandmother, Mammy would have called them “stinkers.” That’s what she called her pesky beagle, Mitzi, a “stinker” when Mitzi would help herself to food from Mammy’s kitchen table! Yes, the lamenting people of Judah could be called “stinkers” because they are blaming God for THEIR misbehavior!
They go from, “When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down; the mountains quaked at your presence.”
But then, listen to them blame God.”…but YOU were angry…” They are kind of gaslighting here! “But YOU were angry, and we sinned. Because YOU hid yourself, WE transgressed.” “You MADE us sin! It’s your fault!”
Right here, we do an emoji for God, “Hand smacking the forehead!”
I doubt any of us here in this virtual space has NOT felt the absence of God now and them. Some people. A lot of people leave the faith because God seems absent in times of terror and trouble. Many of us have, from time to time, cast around for someone to blame. And the best One to blame in the time of grief, sorrow, fear, or notorious sinning is, well, our Loving Deity!
The prophet Isaiah, as so many writings in Scripture points us to the human way of communicating our sorrow and anger and regret by shouting our lament. A good, angry, soul-filled lament helps us keep the connection, the relationship with God EVEN in God’s absence! And prepares us for re-connecting.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the hidden God in his letters from Nazi prison. His theology might feel uncomfortable, especially as so much feels unstable in the world and in our country right now. But today, as we begin our preparation for the coming of Christ, I invite us to consider his words.
He even uses the word “forsake” in a way that disturbs, but also calls us to consider the cross.
Bonhoeffer writes, “God would have us know that we must live as [human beings] who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us, is the God who forsakes us.”
We are reminded of the words Jesus spoke from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Bonhoeffer continues, “The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before we stand continually.”
I would interject here that God is taking a HUGE risk letting us live in the world this way!
Bonhoeffer writes, “Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us.”
“God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross.”
“Weak and powerless” are so very foreign to how we experience the world right now. Our culture gives the phony ideal of being able to “swim with the sharks” and win! And the commercialization of Christmas consumption might be seen in our weakest moments as the final victory; that God IS hidden and silent.
Yet, as Bonhoeffer wrote in prison, “God is with us and helps us, and sometimes that is in silence.”
This First Sunday of Advent, we begin worship with lament. Very little about the readings this morning to have “a holly jolly Christmas” ring to them. And it is appropriate for people of faith to stand up and ask God, “Over 265,000 people have died in this country. Where are you? Where have you been in the face of so much worldwide loss?”
I’m wondering – if we might begin Advent at the foot of the cross where the Son of God, Emmanuel suffered so terribly and died. And then from Good Friday, these weeks of Advent we wait and watch and prepare to receive him in the flesh.
He is not absent at all!
Our Savior is going to call!