What do you see?
If you see God is Nowhere then you are in Advent. In fact you are pre-advent. You are in the place in history where God seems to have disappeared. You are in the ‘Intertestamental’ part of the Bible, that yawning gap between the promises of the prophet Malachi and the hope of the opening of the gospel of Matthew. The Old Testament closes with these words from the prophet:
Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.
God’s people are promised that God will return, that he will come and that ‘Elijah’ will prepare the way. They are also promised that families will be reunited, and that God will bring with him blessings. Such a hopeful way to end a lifetime of prophecy, such a hopeful way to leave the Israelites hanging. But left hanging they were. There are several hundred years between the two Testaments, between the promises spoken by the prophet Malachi and anything actually happening – well, nothing if you ignore the Maccabean Rebellion that is, but that’s a story for another day.
For those who had heard and believed and trusted in the hope given by Malachi, the years, decades, generations that passed without fulfilment of the prophecy led many to believe that God is nowhere.
When we switch on our news, whether it be the World Service, Sky News, or Social Media, it can seem as if God is nowhere. The world is full of pain and suffering and idiotic and incompetent rulers of the free world. This world is broken, stressed to the point of collapse, we are imploding upon ourselves and no-one, earthly of otherwise seems to care.
GOD IS NOWHERE
However if you saw God is Now Here you are in Christmas. Just like the rest of society which decorates their tree before December even begins, completes shopping in January, starts eating mince pies and playing Christmas songs as soon as Halloween is over, you are ahead of the game!
Mark’s Gospel makes a similar leap – his opening lines are:
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Mark continues to speak of the ‘Elijah’ promised by Malachi, who would come before God himself. The prophet is already here, preparing the way, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God is here, and this is Good News. This is the hope that we have all been waiting for since Malachi made those promises. Jesus is here, God is here, among us, reuniting families and drawing God close to his people once more.
GOD IS NOW HERE
But wait. Today is Advent Sunday, not Christmas Day, and not any of the long turgid days of brokenness and forgotten hope. Today is the day we commence our waiting with expectation. Today is the day that we start to prepare our hearts and homes to welcome the most wonderful guest. Today is the day that we rekindle the hope that may have been damaged and dented in what has been a difficult and troubled year.
And so, today’s reading from the gospels isn’t one of the expected Advent stories. It isn’t the Annunciation, or even John’s birth, there is nothing about Mary or Joseph. The angels in this passage don’t have any important news to bear, in fact they know nothing:
But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Mark 13: 32
The angels do not sing in heavenly choirs, they are sent to gather up the faithful, when the end of this world comes, and the new creation is brought into place.
The reality is, we have all moved on from Advent and from Christmas. Yes we re-visit them each year, and remember the stories, but just like those pre-advent Israelites, we have lost some of the wonder, we have lost the hope. Mark’s passage today reminds us of the promise that Jesus is coming. It has been a long time. So much longer than the Israelites had to wait between Malachi’s promise and Jesus’ birth, 2 Millennia have passed and who knows how many more – not the angels that’s for sure – but the promise is just as true as the first. If the promise is just as true, just as trustworthy, then we have something sure to place our hope in.
Today we light the first candle on the Advent wreath – the candle of hope. Let us bring before God all that has diminished our hope, all that has left us feeling spiritually battered and bruised, all that has left us thinking that God is nowhere, so that we can rekindle in our hearts the hope of the promise that Jesus will return.
Something to watch:
Something to do:
Light a single candle. Read aloud the passage from Mark 13: 24-end. Take some time to sit quietly with the preadinng. What images are created in your head? What associated words come to mind? What feelings and emotions are created within you? What music can you hear? If you feel comfortable, share these with others.
Something to think about:
- What do you first see – God is nowhere or God is now here?
- What has advent come to mean to you?
- Is this time about the waiting and hoping of Advent or the preparing for Christmas?
- What rituals and traditions do you have in place in your home? Are any of these ‘spiritual’?
- What do you think of this quote from Tom Wright? Do you agree with him?
The symbolism of darkness awaiting dawn makes sense in a post-modern world where Christmas razzmatazz has been debunked, demythologised and deconstructed. Hope in the night is what we want and need.
- Verses 24-27 speak of ‘end times’ – do you find these encouraging, exciting or fearful words?
- Why do you think nobody knows the date except the Father? What is to be gained in not knowing?
- How can we ‘keep awake’? How can we keep our hope alive?
Something to listen to:
Something to pray:
In this first week of Advent, we light the candle of hope. Hope is our assurance that God will finish all He has started. Hope is our confidence that he will do all he has promised.