Your response to the following song written in 1967 will put you on one side or the other of America’s cultural divide.
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ‘n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,
The answer is blowin’ in the wind (Bob Dylan, 1962).
The prophetic voice in today’s lesson for Advent is rooted in a season of division. The key cultural and political leaders of Judah had been taken into captivity. They and their children returned to find that new leadership had taken over the government and temple leadership. And just the divide of left and right, red states and blue states in today’s society there was bubbling just under the surface a deep resentment in the camps of the two religious parties. Those who had not left felt they were rudely pushed aside by the returning elites. Meanwhile, the returning faithful ones were sure that their substitutes distorted God’s worship before the people.
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence–
as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil–
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
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 have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people (Isaiah 64:1-9).
Isaiah takes a different tack from so many in his day or ours. He chose to confess all the sins of the people and own his part in that sin. We are so prone to pointing out another person’s sins. Red state folks know why the blue states will lead the country down the wrong road and the blue state folks know that the red state folks are out of touch – or is it vice-verse? Isaiah says to the people, this situation is messed up and here’s how we are going to fix it. We are getting on our knees and we are going to confess all our sins – red state and blue state – and we are not going to push them off on somebody else.
He begins with an invitation for God to make Godself known in a new way. Isaiah is saying to the heavens, “You, O Lord, cause the heavens and earth to shake. The nations and the mountains alike tremble in your presence. When you unexpectedly appeared to us in the past you changed the situation. You revealed your awesome power.”
“BUT, lately you seem absent,” Isaiah continues. “Are you now angry with us? Have you deserted us because of our actions? Are we just filthy rags to be tossed on the trash heap of history? Are we just leaves that fall and blow in the wind? Is the answer blowing in the wind?”
Is it so different today? A friend gave me a button to wear that said, “Christ is coming soon … look busy!” And busy we are! Our society is caught up in the turning point of our year. In the midst of the season of HallowThankMas — Halloween—Thanksgiving—Christmas — we join in the mayhem of “Black Friday” and hope that the companies that pay our pension and 401ks are doing well on the day after Thanksgiving. Tomorrow is Cyber Monday – online retailers noticed the spike in purchases that comes after Thanksgiving – and folks will be using computers at work and at home to fulfill the desires of their friends and relatives. Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? Revealing our Christmas lists?
We make gestures toward God, but do we desire the Lord’s presence? We argue about public displays of our religious beliefs, but do we call on God’s name, trust in the power of the Spirit, rest in the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ? Do we believe that Jesus is coming soon? Do we believe that God desires to be made known in our time?
Some are seeking signs of God’s activity. Some are praying for God’s soon-coming kingdom to be an already arriving kingdom. We turn to Jesus and he offers these words:
"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware; keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake" (Mark 13:32-37).
There we have it. Stay alert, get to work, remain watchful, and keep awake. I am inviting you to pay attention to the God-moments and Christ-signs we see in the coming weeks. We will explore God’s vision for our world as we pay attention to the prophets of old, how their words found fulfillment in Jesus, and how we could live into God’s vision. Stay alert, get to work, remain watchful, and keep awake.
Here’s my hunch about our life together. The answer is blowing in the wind. The answer is not in the wind of the poet, but in the wind of God’s Holy Spirit blowing where it will among us and within us. The answer is blowing God’s holy wind.
O God, in times past we looked for you in the fire.
We listened for you in howling winds.
We sought you in quaking mountains.
But now we know that you are found among us.
While we may find you in the glitter of a mall
we know to look for you in the shelter for the homeless.
While you may woo us with the pitch of a television commercial
we know that you make yourself know n in a whimper of a child.
While we may find you clothed in the comforts of the privileged
we know that you are swaddled in the needs of the neglected.
Open our eyes to the appearance of the angels.
Open our ears to the testimony of the shepherds.
Open our hearts to ponder the secrets of Mary.
And open our mouths to shout the news of our Lord’s coming!
(Adapted from Phyllis Cole and Everett Tilson, Litanies and Other Prayers: Year B, Abingdon: 1993).