Isaiah thinks that we need a dramatic wake up call. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” we hear in the first verse. Mark, too, seems to be drawing our attention to signs and wonders in our readings for this first Sunday in Advent. Get ready! Be prepared! The signs are all around you!
Maybe we are too distracted by the Christmas music that has been playing in stores since the end of October. Maybe we have let politics and the ever-lengthening campaign season steal our attention. Maybe our church has been so preoccupied by a building campaign that we forgot to notice the gospel right in front of us. Whatever it may be, Advent is the time of year when we get slapped upside the head with the challenging images of the heavens shaking and the earth trembling and voices crying out prophetic words from the wilderness. Advent isn’t a time for the soft and cuddly, but a reminder of the ever present Kingdom of God that is about to fully break into our midst – whether we are ready for it or not.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the signs and wonders, but unlike Isaiah; I don’t necessarily believe that God has hidden from us. Maybe we just aren’t paying attention. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote in her sermon, “Late Bloomer,” (found in Gospel Medicine) “…what better way to live than in the grip of a promise… to wake in the possibility that today might be the day. To remain wide awake all day long, noticing everything.” What if the call to keep awake was not a call to be prepared for catastrophic billboards from on high, but to simply notice every day where God is present around us?
Yes, Christ promises to return, and in the Advent season we eagerly await the return of Christ. But Advent is also the reminder that God has already come down and made his life among us, and that while there may have been a star in the heavens, the presence of God was found in the ordinary. An infant born and laid in a manger of hay. Smelly shepherds coming in from the fields. A life lived among the people of God. A holy meal of wine and bread.
We claim and proclaim a Kingdom that is already here and not yet fully realized. To live in that tension is a call to be always aware of where God is active and moving among us, and also to be aware of where and when God is about to do a new thing in our midst.