Scripture | Isaiah 64:1-9 | Romans 8: 18-25; 35; 38-39
In Today's Romans Passage, Paul is addressing the suffering of our world, and how we are supposed to wait for Christ’s return in the midst of struggle and pain, and he looks to hope and love as the tools to bring us through. A central image Paul uses in this text is the image of a woman in labor. Its a fitting image as we approach Bethlehem, and I’ve decided to read today from the Message because in Eugene Peterson’s interpretation, he absolutely runs wild with Paul’s image of Labor and lets this image permeate through the rest of the passage.
Even though I am absolutely, 100% not a morning person, one of my all time favorite things to do is to get up super early, while it is still pitch dark, then drive, walk, or hike to a place where you can see for miles. You arrive, and stumble around in the darkness until you find a good spot to sit down, and then, facing east in the quiet stillness, you wait.
You get lost in the constellations and the vastness of the universe until all of the sudden, you realize that the sky seems to be just a little bit lighter in color. You follow the gradient to the horizon where you see it is even lighter there and your eyes get fixed to that spot, trying to guess at the exact point the sun will rise.
Minutes pass and even though you are still surrounded in darkness, you watch as this lightening patch of sky spreads further and further slowly transitioning out into the darkness as that spot on the horizon starts to glow with a yellowy pink.
And it is right here.
Exactly in this moment that we are asked to be on this fourth Sunday of Advent.
Right here where the light is dawning, but you still can’t see the Sun. Where you can see the vibrancy of color, and the silhouettes of your surroundings but you can’t yet see the source of all of this light.
Now the Sun rises every day. Its not a surprise to us when we see it! We expect it to rise each new daily exactly as it has every day before it. We know exactly what sunlight looks like.
But there is something about this moment at dawn, watching this new light fall fresh on the darkness of your surrounding that places you into this space of wonder, of awe, of mystery.
You can have all the expectations and assumptions you want about what will happen when the sun comes over the horizon but every time we see it, it exceeds out expectations.
Every time it happens, we leave our knowledge behind and we are left awestruck, in the mystery of moment…
Its as if its written into our DNA to leave all of our guessing aside and just be fully present in the mystery to witness the glory of this moment.
This “twilight before dawn” experience is exactly the feeling that we try to dwell in throughout Advent.
We have expectations and assumption about what it looks like when God comes into the world. We’ve heard the stories of Christ, so we assume we know how God comes, but each advent we sit in the darkness, we dwell in the mystery. We wait, and we watch.
In doing this, We realize we don’t have all the answers, and we realize all of our assumptions fall short, so we wait, with all of our hopes, and look at the horizon, waiting expectantly to be awed by what God has in store.
Then, in that waiting, we start to see Glimmers of God coming, as if it were a dawning light shining into the darkness, and something about it causes us to wonder, …
Today’s scripture passages are perhaps best read in this sort of place as well, in the twilight before the dawn, they are both certainly written from that perspective… communities sitting in darkness, stuck in the struggles of the world, unsure of why things are the way they are and unsure of what could happen in the future.
However in the darkness of their surroundings its as though each of these authors, through the words of these texts, are staring off at the horizon, and telling each group… look, look over there, the sky is changing color, a new day is dawning.
If only you would tear open the heavens and come down! Quake the mountains, rage like wildfire, make the nations know your name and cause them to tremble in your presence. Lord, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter. All of us are the work of your hand.
I love this prayer… there are so many times where I want God to come to earth like this, suddenly breaking into our world with power and glory. To finally end all our waiting and our longing and respond to the suffering of our world. There are so many times where I feel like crying out and beg God to come to disorient and tremble the status quo with a strong hand and then intimately reshape us like a potter with clay.
I can see how this prayer brought this community hope. As they looked out into the mysterious darkness of their surrounding, I can see how they would hope God’s light would break in suddenly and soon…
But, unlike this Isaiah community, we have met Jesus… We have heard the story of how God came to earth… We have seen what God’s power and glory actually looks like when it enters creation, and its not as the prophet hoped, its not as anyone could expect… it is less like wildfire and more like a new born vulnerable child in a manger surrounded by the love of his parents.
In our waiting, our longings, our aches, our hopes, and our expectations develop but they aren’t ever the same as God’s plans.
God works in the unexpected, and the unseen. God works in the mysterious. and God’s revelation of exactly what God is up to… is just beyond the horizon where we can’t see.
Its like the image Paul works with in Romans.
Gods revelation is like a baby developing in its mother. Its parents count the days. Its parents may have assumptions about what this child will look like. They may dream about who this child may become, but ultimately its out of their control. They can’t know fully who their child will be, and they can’t predict when their child will come.
But, even with all of their hopes, longings, and expectations, they can can wait, and watch.
They can be fully present in the wonder and mystery of each moment.
And as they wait, they can increase in eagerness and joy as the mother’s belly grows.
They can be in awestruck with love as they feel their child kick, and move.
And even through the difficulty and pain involved in childbirth, they can endure by focusing on the joy that their child is almost here, and the love that is the reason they are there in the first place.
As much as I love knowledge. As much as I love asking questions and seeking answers. As much as I am a product of centuries of theologians, scholars and scientists who were never content to not know. There is, I believe, a time and place in faith for not knowing. A time for waiting, watching, and being in awe at the glimmers of God’s love shining out into our world.
When it comes down to it a whole lot of what we talk about at church are things we cannot know for sure… In a way, We are all sitting in darkness looking together at a beautiful light breaking beyond the horizon.
We could run ourselves ragged making predictions about what happens when God comes. We could try to name the exact time and the exact spot on the horizon where the sun will rise.
But I believe a better option is to stumble through the darkness, and put yourself in a spot where you can take it all in.
A place where you can watch and wait… looking out onto God’s mysterious work. A place where you can start to see God change the color of the dark sky with rays of love, joy, hope, and peace until at last you find yourself gazing once again at the full brilliance of a new day on the horizon.
A place where you can be like that mother on her way to Bethlehem, unsure of what is to come, wrapping her arms around her growing belly, and being content enough to be lost in the joy and love of every moment.
Until at last God reveals to us the true depth of his love.