The renown movie producer Cecil B. De Mille once said, “Start with the earthquake, then build to the climax.” Our gospel lesson does that. Actually, both passages do- the mountains quake in Isaiah and the heavens shake in the gospel. Both have an apocalyptic feel which is a style of writing that helps to deal with the situations that feel out of control. Something we can relate to as we reflect on this past year, because today marks the beginning of the new year in the church, with the first Sunday in Advent. Consider the devastating hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria; major earthquakes in Mexico, Iran and China; political investigations and unrest and nuclear escalation with North Korea. With each incident we find ourselves waiting for more information, wondering how this will turn out, praying for God’s grace and intervention. Each one feels like an emotional earthquake and we do not know what the climax will be. We are still waiting.
Then add the revelations about trusted news anchors and their inappropriate and even criminal behavior. Hearing about Matt Lauer’s firing from NBC truly saddened me. Maybe for you it was the similar accusation against Charlie Rose or Garrison Kieller. Somehow their behavior was harder to deal with than Hollywood or Washington allegations, because I had given them my trust. Hopefully we are at a turning point in our society where women will be fully heard and valued. That the societal earthquake which is bringing down old institutions and ways of behaving, will lead to a rebuilding of a workplace of safety and respect. Yet each time there is a new revelation it feels like an aftershock to my system. You want to go on with your life, but you don’t want to get to far away from the safety of standing in the doorway, because you are not sure what might come tumbling down.
Even as we prepare for Christmas it can feel a bit like an earthquake. We are shaken by all the holiday expectations, the shopping to do, the parties of plan, the travel arrangements to make. Don’t get me wrong there is much joy and fun in these activities, but they can take on a life of their own. Much like an earthquake can consume your energy and time to recover, all the holiday activities can distract you from the real joy of the season.
Did you notice the statement is never, “Start with the earthquake and go straight to the climax?” That makes for a very short movie, an unsatisfying experience. So here we are the first week of Advent, knowing that the story is just beginning, and we will have to wait. We wait like the bridesmaids waiting for the groom, we wait like the lesson from the fig tree, we wait for the arrival of baby Jesus. That is us waiting in our faith. The world would have us wait for a holiday about gifts & presents. We have already started counting down the days of Christmas. How can you not, with all the hype for Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Our culture is counting down the remaining shopping days, but we are seeking to prepare our hearts of Christ’s arrival, not just finish our shopping.
I have two orchids in my kitchen window. They were gifts from several years ago. Now most of my life I have killed orchids- I over watered them, or put them in direct light, or just gave up on them too soon. Because it can take months for new blooms to set. But over time I have learned how to care for them- the lessons of orchids. The first is don’t over water. The second is be patient. Even after they have lost their bloom, and they look like there is no life left, if you see a new leaf forming you know it will soon produce a new stem of flowers. That is when you need to watch to connect the new stem to the support.
Jesus tells of the lesson of the fig tree. Here he is connecting the emergent leaves to the coming summer season. He is reminding the people that even when things are hard, even when it feels like the earth is quaking, that God is in control. Jesus is reminding us that even when it feels like too many things are changing at once the one thing that will never change is God and the word of God that helps us to live our life. And just as they wait for the summer season, like we are waiting in the advent season, Jesus is near. God’s promise of hope and love and redemption are close at hand. We will never know the time of Christ’s return, but we can absolutely trust in God’s sovereignty and love.
When we come to Christ’s table we get to taste that promise, we get to be in God’s presence and know that we are loved. This is a time to make a space for God in your heart, a place for Jesus to enter once again. Because sometimes God is hidden behind the wrapping paper and the ornaments and we have a tough time seeing the glory of God in this moment of revelation.
I think that is what Isaiah was talking about. Isaiah speaks about mountains and nations quaking in God’s presence. The world shakes in awe of God. The third time they quaked because of the awesome and unexpected deeds of God. But then we hear tell of how the people fell short and sinned because God’s face was hidden. They lost sight of God, they were distant from the One who is their light and their God. That distance has devastating consequences. Advent is a time to see God’s face in all we do. A time to look at Jesus when he says, “Look at me.” To be mindful that we are walking this earth because of the blessings of God.
For when we are in awe of the one who created us, are seeking the face of the one who loves and made us, then we are in the right place to invite God to shape us. God our Father is the one who can shape each and every one of us, to make us more and more into God’s image. But sometimes I think we think we have already been fired in the kiln and we are set, done, immovable. But not so with God. Our Father God is the potter who brought us life and who brings newness to us now. He takes whatever imperfection we have and smooths it over on the wheel. God gently reshapes who we are when we willingly meet him at Christ’s table and ask to be in God’s presence. Mountains quake at God’s presence, nations tremble at God’s presence and you are transformed in God’s presence.
We started with an earthquake, but the climax of this story is Jesus. Jesus is the one who was born in a stable, who embodies the reality of God in the softness of the baby, who meets us at table to share with us God’s grace and healing. No matter how much the world feels like it is shaking, or your equilibrium is off balance, know that in Jesus we have hope, in Jesus we have peace, in Jesus we know love and in Jesus we share joy. May we take all those blessings out in to the world to share the light of Christ this Christmas. Amen.