Advent Blog Post 1 - by Annalise Kontras
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.
My hunch is that few of us have called for the kind of intervention Isaiah does in the passage, asking God to rip open the heavens, shake the earth, and terrify enemies.
Instead, some of us will recall acute experiences of fervently calling out to God from the miry pit of tragedy and trial, petitioning him for the interventions of healing or reconciliation or provision. Others may reflect on their prayers for God’s intervention over the past nine months during the pandemic, political tensions, racial injustice, strained relationships, economic hardships, or enduring loneliness.
Other cries for God’s help arise from everyday circumstances in which we are confronted with our sin, or the monotony of ordinary existence, or our own inadequacies. That is how it usually goes for me.
My oldest child was a difficult newborn. For months, my days consisted entirely of soothing her to sleep while she wailed, holding her so she’d stay asleep, and feeding her. Though I attempted to hold it together and tell myself this new mom thing was a joy, the truth was that moment by moment, I felt like a failure. One lonely winter day, during what felt like the hundredth hour of cradling her while bouncing on an exercise ball (in the dark bathroom with the fan on for white noise, of course), I broke. “I need your help, God. I don’t like this, and I don’t know what to do. Please help her fall asleep. I need to rest. I can’t do this. Please, help me!”
In this real, very human moment, I called for God to intervene on my behalf and for my cause. I wonder how often my requests for God’s help are to this end: to accomplish my purposes and fulfill my desires.
I don’t think such requests are sinful; in fact, examples of God’s people calling out for help in human situations abound in Scripture. We are told to cast our cares on Him, for he cares for us.
Yet, the request for intervention in Isaiah 64 is situated in a broader context beyond our immediate needs and desires. To paraphrase: God is Lord! We, in contrast, are shriveled leaves swept away on the winds of our sins. How can we be saved?! Because despite our brokenness, we are clay, being molded in the merciful hands of our Father.
This context causes me to consider that God’s intervention is often internal. Through a fussy, dependent newborn in my arms, God was intervening powerfully. He was molding, shaping, and forming me to be a mother who is more and more like Christ. He was refining me through peeling away the layers of self-centeredness and perfectionism and comfort-seeking that had calcified on my heart.
What an incredible thought, that even if the external intervention we hope for isn’t realized, God is working so intimately and compassionately within us! That through the valleys and shadows, God intervenes at the heart-level for His good and loving purposes.
During Advent, we wait and hope for The Intervention--the Emmanuel, the “God with us” who will make all things new. We long for His intervention on the individual, communal, and societal levels.
As one who also longed for the coming of the Christ, Isaiah writes, “For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down...” Indeed, the intervening Messiah who came down was not what the prophets and religious leaders and Hebrews expected. He was a lowly, poor carpenter from Nazareth, for starters. And his interventions completely missed the mark: while they expected a king who would establish a prosperous earthly kingdom, this Messiah described an upside-down Kingdom and sought to intervene in their hearts.
The unexpected, amazing Intervention of God is tangible mercy and steadfast love, packaged in the unlikeliest of wrappings: the meagerly clothed, dependent body of a newborn baby, born amidst filth and stink.
That our hearts prepare Him room this Advent means that we--like the sinners and outcasts who readily believed--see our need for Christ’s intervention deep within us, that we invite him into the broken places that we strive to cover up or mend ourselves. It means that we surrender, contrite and willing as clay.
Questions for Reflection:
By Sam Gutierrez
For the next four weeks, we will be featuring four Alger Park members as guest writers on the blog. This year for Advent, we’ll be doing a series around the theme of “Hope” and I’ve asked them to write something based on this theme:
In this season of diminishing light, while we huddle at home in the midst of a global pandemic, these writers will share thoughts, stories, reflections, and questions as fellow pilgrims on the journey. None of these good folks have seminary degrees or theological doctorates. They are just ordinary people who are trying to say a deep and heartfelt “yes” to the call of Jesus to “follow me.” If you have been following Jesus for any length of time, then you know the path of discipleship is not one confident step in front of the other. Rather, it’s like a wandering in the desert – there's a clear destination in view, but often you feel lost and turned around half (if not most!) of the time – one step forward, two steps back. My hope is that as you read these upcoming blogs, each writer will light a candle for you – a light shining in the darkness as we reorient ourselves once again and head towards home.
Waiting is not easy. We get impatient. We get frustrated. Even the prospect of waiting in a long line at Chick-Fil-A has us looking for another place that sells waffle-cut fries. But waiting is also soul shaping. As we wait, we grow. As we wait, we breathe deep and steady allowing the spiritual “room” inside of us to expand. Yes, waiting is hard, but hope marks our waiting with expectation – knowing that the one who makes promises will always come through.
By Sam Gutierrez
When I was in Middle School Band, I learned how to play the saxophone. Learning how to make sound through a wooden reed was hard enough, but learning an instrument was also about learning about music and how to read music. When I first started, there were a lot of strange symbols decorating the sheet music. One of the new symbols that I had to recognize and learn to play skillfully was the crescendo. A crescendo starts softly and gets louder as the note is held out.
We are nearing the end of the liturgical calendar. We’ve been in a beautiful but long season of Ordinary Time when the church lives out it’s calling as the hands of feet of Jesus in the world. You might think of Ordinary Time as a long extended musical note. But as we near the end of the calendar (the first Sunday in Advent is a New Year) we see a musical notation for a crescendo! All of this is leading towards “Christ the King Sunday” when we acknowledge and worship Christ – the King of Heaven and Earth.
The Lectionary (collection of Bible passages every Sunday) also crescendos. Leading up to Christ the King Sunday, the Lectionary focuses on Bible passages that are all about “getting ready” for this sure and coming reality.
In Lectionary Year A, the Lectionary takes a deep dive into the three parables found in Matthew 25. All the parables are about wise people who are ready for the coming King, and foolish people who are not ready. Jesus quite clearly states that he will come back to establish his good and sovereign rule on earth, but no one knows the exact day or hour. It could be soon. It could be a long way off. In the end, it will be a huge surprise – for everyone – including Jesus himself (only the Father knows the exact day and hour). So – how can we get ready for a surprise?
That seems strange doesn’t it? The very nature of a surprise is that you are not prepared for it. That is what makes a birthday surprise so exciting – an unsuspecting person walks into a darkened room only to be startled by a flip of the light switch and a chorus of “Surprise!” Jesus tells us that his coming will be just like that – a complete surprise. But he doesn’t want us be to unprepared. So he tells us to get ready.
For many, the return of Jesus strikes fear in our hearts and sends anxiety coursing through our veins. Surprises are usually good and fun; this one, however, feels more like we’re getting caught with our hand in the cookie jar. But notice that Jesus doesn’t say “Therefore – be afraid… because you are sinners and everyone is in BIG TROUBLE NOW!” No. He says, “Therefore – keep watch.”
Jesus is telling us ahead of time how it’s all going to end. He will come back and he will sit on the throne of the universe. It’s like he’s telling us how the movie is going to end – and rather than spoiling the plot – his “reveal” actually gives us hope and purpose as we struggle through the mess of our ordinary lives – knowing that it all has a purpose and history is heading towards a wonderful and amazing end.
To get ready for a surprise is to live today while knowing tomorrow. It means to live your life in a way that synchronizes with how all things will be someday. It’s about saying “yes” to the sure and coming reality of Christ the King.
Are you ready for the crescendo?