Remember Us O God
On Advent 1 our readings today focus on a future that is coming, for which we should be prepared. We should be prepared for a future transition which may be terrifying.
The first reading is from Isaiah 64 verse 1-9. The book of Isaiah covers a period of well over 100 years. The first chapters (1-39) mention kings from before the Jewish Exile in Babylon–in modern Iraq. The central section or Second Isaiah (chapter 40 to 55) relates to the ending of that Jewish Exile in Babylon, which was about 70 years long. The last chapters (56 onward) or Third Isaiah come from the period after the Exile in Babylon, when some of the Jews were back in Jerusalem.
When those few Jews arrived back in Jerusalem, they expected everything would go smoothly, they would overcome their enemies, and the economy would improve. It was not to be. The character of this Third Isaiah section is faith which continues when there is little or no evidence for the faith people have; or, when the evidence seems to be against faith. The people of faith wondered if they had done something wrong. They asked God to remember them in their plight.
Writers have called the faith of those few Jews then and there, “a Promethean faith”. It is probably how Jesus experienced Gethsemane, the passion and crucifixion–when there was little or no evidence that he (Jesus) had followed the right path. Jesus also asked God to remember him in his plight.
Of course today we see the fruit of the faith of the people of Third Isaiah. There would be no Joseph, Mary, and the Christmas nativity scene without their faith.
Today, we can see the fruit of the faithfulness of Jesus. Only three or four people gathered and following him around his cross–but billions of people following since then. But Jesus and his companions could not see the fruit in their experience at that time.
The Gospel reading (Mark 13:24-37) ends with this warning from Jesus: “What I say to you, I say to all: Keep awake!” This warning runs through the whole of the Gospel of Mark. We should be prepared for a coming transition.
The coming transition will be a surprise for all of us. In his show on Saturday Night Live on November 1, comedian Chris Rock spoke of Christmas. He said that surely Jesus was one of the least materialistic of all people. Yet Christmas is not only a day, but a whole season devoted to the most rampant materialism of the year. Then, economists stand up after Christmas to tell us that insufficient money was spent, but hopefully the spending can be made up by the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Indeed (as in James Davison Hunter’s recent book, “To Change the World”), it may be that people embracing ever more materialism is one of the factors that has so eroded all faith and all faith communities in the West since the 1950’s. In the global west, the faith community before the second world war was very different from the faith community after the second world war.
Since the earth cannot sustain the very materialistic way global westerners live in current times, it is sure that the reign God is going to look different to what we now experience. Just as natural events rattle us at the moment, it points towards the fact that God’s reign will come as a surprise to all of us. God’s reign will be communal. It will be egalitarian. We may not want to know, not want to live like and with an Afghan, like and with an African, an Argentinian, a North American, or an Indian. Some of us may not want to live where God reigns.
A Promethean faith has its place in history too. It must have taken a lot of faithfulness to follow along with George Washington during the American revolution, and the years afterwards when the economy was badly battered and suffering was more evident than triumph. It took faithfulness in 1939 and 1940 for the English to follow along with Winston Churchill in the face of the bombing from and the might of Germany.
That faithfulness to God’s coming reign is therefore fruitful, in every time and place, ancient or modern, east or west. It’s best to practice for God’s very different kingdom that is coming.
Let’s ask God to help us live a life that is becoming more like that of Jesus (and not less)–a life that is simpler, a life that is trending towards that future transition that is coming, a life of Promethean faith despite the circumstances around us.