Lectionary Scriptures for Nov. 30, 2014. First Advent. Isa 64:1-9, Ps 80:1-7 and 17-19, 1 Cor. 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37
There's some real anger toward God expressed in the Old Testament readings, but you have to read the omitted parts to really get it! (Besides, it makes no sense to leave out 3 verses of the Isaiah chapter. Verses 10-12 are the concluding statements.)
Isaiah 9:5b says; "...you were angry and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed." Isaiah complains that God has been too hidden, that the people haven't seen great wonders like they did in the past. Then he blames God for the people going astray. Anger and blame are all directed at God.
In Psalm 80:8-16 the writer complains bitterly against God. Why has God bothered to save and relocate a whole people, and then, "give them tears to drink...make us the scorn of our enemies, and break down our walls?"
The writers don't hold back, they express their frustration with God. I wonder if these uncomfortable feelings are left out in Bible readings so often because we feel they are wrong somehow, as if speaking them might give them power, might drive people to wallow in anger and turn away from God. We don't know what to do with our doubts and questions and anger, so we don't read those pieces, it's easier to pretend we have solid beliefs and unwavering faith. But I wonder if not addressing our deepest angers and doubts actually gives them more power over us than less because we never deal with them. Anger festers and grows when it is hidden. How many people feel huge amounts of guilt, as they sit in church, because it seems that everyone around them can simply believe while they themselves struggle? How much anger is internalized and then blows up in misplaced and hurtful ways if we never legitimately work on it? If our answer must come from God, why does it seem God is hidden?
Advent is a great time to acknowledge anger, disappointment, and our deepest fears. It really isn't about warm fuzzies, softly falling snow, and pretending the "good will to all' is real. In Advent we come face to face with the reality of a screwed up world and our own inadequacies. Like these OT writers, we know something has gone wrong, that we aren't seeing God the way we want. These hard pieces give me permission to be real, to stop pretending I can fix things, to accept that my community and church and country actually need help. When we stop pretending things are great, maybe then we can get involved in living in healing ways. (What is that cliche, that an addict has to first admit they have a problem before they can start fixing it?)
Acknowledging our reality, our failings, our anger, our desire for God to show up, these all set the stage for the needed incarnation, the birth of God into our world that we celebrate at Christmas. Being real is appropriate, necessary, at Advent time. We wait and hope for God to become real in our world. The Psalmist, after expressing anger, concludes with; "Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved." Advent is a realization of need, a plea for help, and a waiting in great hope for the God of love to come down and be known.