First Sunday of Advent — November 30, 2014

Call and Response

Guest Preacher — Mark Shannon

Mark 13:24-37
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It 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. 35Therefore, 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, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Isaiah 64:1-9                                                                                                                                         O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2as 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! 3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4From 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. 5You 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.
6We 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. 7There 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. 8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

The first candle is lit.  The calendar says we’re only four weeks away, and Thanksgiving is in our rear view mirror.  As we begin our season of Advent together perhaps we can be forgiven if we’re feeling somewhat less than adventurous here at Emsworth U P church.  We’ve come through a series of revealing and sometimes uncomfortable meetings with more to come in the months ahead.  And the results of those meetings are still not clear.  So we’re probably not as courageous as we would like to be as we anticipate what God is doing in our midst at this time and in the future.
But throughout the church’s history God’s people have often been frustrated and unsure of themselves in their walk with the Lord.  Today’s Scripture texts record the way people prayed to God for intervention in their lives.  Their prayer and the Lord’s response in the New Testament can be a benefit and a guide to us in these times.
The prophet Isaiah ministered to God’s people when they were in exile.  After years of listening to the Lord’s dire warnings that a conqueror would come and captivity would result, the people of Israel were overcome by the king of Babylon and sent away to live in a far country.
Isaiah’s prophecies speak words of comfort to those in exile.  He tells of a time when God’s Servant will usher in a time of peace; a time when the lion shall lie down with the lamb and when a child will play over the nest of the viper.
But in the time until all of that takes place, the people call upon God to open wide the veil that separates heaven and earth and to make the mountains tremble as He rescues and delivers His people.
Isaiah calls out to the Lord on behalf of the people.  In his prayer he acknowledges God’s unique relationship with the children of Israel.  No other god ever made a covenant with men and women and honored that relationship as God has.
Isaiah recalls for the people the great things He has done for them, how He has involved Himself in their lives on a personal basis.
He also acknowledges the sin of the people of Israel.  It is because of their idolatry and the breakdown and corruption of the priesthood that the nation has been lead away in exile.  
Because of their relationship with God, Isaiah and the people know that He has heard their cries for help.  They can also have confidence that He will respond.
And so they wait.
Here in Emsworth, we are waiting too.  As a congregation and as individuals we have asked God to show us what He wants our church to become.  We have attended meetings and discussed options and we have expressed a willingness to listen to God’s instructions for us and for the life of our church.
Make no mistake, the Lord has heard our prayers.  He knows about the frustration and anxiety we feel.  He has not put us on hold while He attends to something else.  He is intimately involved with each of our lives, and with the life of our community of faith.
Isaiah recounted in his prayer the things the Lord had done for His people in the past.  So let’s do the same.  Take a minute and think of what God has done for us in recent weeks.
Our New Testament lesson finds Jesus dealing with the same problem.  His disciples want to know what signs to look for when God gets ready to deliver them and establish His new order.
Jesus says to them to keep watch.  Discerning Christians can recognize that God is in their midst.  A sign won’t take the form of some celestial anomaly like a new moon in the sky.  We in the 21st century aren’t as attuned to the night sky and the cycles of nature as the first believers were.
But we can develop the vision to see God at work  with us.  Do you remember when Tom and Marti Smart went looking for a new home?  Their house was sold before they had a clear vision of where they would live.  But they entrusted the matter to the Lord and He provided for them.  Meanwhile the house that belonged to B J Robertson stood empty waiting for a buyer.  And lo it came to pass that Tom and Marti found a new place to dwell.  Do you see the divine fingerprints of God in that transaction?  I do.
Just a few weeks ago Mirta told us how God returned her car keys to her. I don’t recall all of the details in her search for the keys but they were found in a manner that revealed to her that God restored them to her possession.
Just a matter of weeks ago we completed some needed plaster work in the stairwell to the sanctuary.  The money was available and the Session acted in faith and hired a contractor.
And the work was done.  We don’t know what God has in mind for us but when He discloses that plan, but our church is ready to carry it out. 
In my own life I am waiting too.  I have asked God to let me know what the next chapter in my life will look like.  And I know He is at work on the matter.  This year I have become more active in our neighborhood library.  I’ve met people through reading and writing groups  and at a monthly trivia game where Mitzi and I take on all comers.  I’ve started teaching Sunday School again.  And I’ve also noticed some profound changes in my attitude toward certain people and issues in my circle of influence.  I know that only God can make these changes happen because I’m too stubborn to make them myself.
On what basis do we expect God to answer our prayers?  Why do we anticipate that He will meet our needs?  It’s because as Christians we know Him as adopted children.  We are trusting Him with our eternal future, knowing that Jesus has provided a place for us at the heavenly table through His saving work on the cross.  We expect Him to answer our prayers because He is faithful and has committed Himself to take care of us.  We don’t know what that will look like in the new year and beyond but we can say that He has our best in mind and is able to bring it about.

Here we stand at the beginning of Advent.  A season of waiting.  We’re getting to be old hands at that, aren’t we?  We may be slow of step and faint of heart but by the grace of God we can wait upon Him as His people, in expectation and in hope.  We don’t wait as one in the outer room of the dentist’s office, under fear of the coming drill.  We have the opportunity to wait with anticipation and with an attitude of excitement.  We know who we are waiting for—the God of love and mercy to make His way known to us.  Therefore let us await Him boldly, and together.