The Shaking Skies (Advent 1B)

In the name of Jesus, amen.
Be careful what you wish for, people of God. Isaiah’s plea is for our Lord to tear a hole in the skies; Jesus warns that his coming will be with stars falling, and the powers of the heavens shaken. Wake up! Can’t you see stars falling? Aren’t the skies shaking, and all the powers of the world with them? Disaster and darkness are approaching, are already here, and the whole world is shifting like clay on the potter’s wheel.

Today’s text should be read as a sermon for emergencies, and we are living in a set of national emergencies. Hurricanes, fires, floods, threats of nuclear war. The institutions of government, of religion, of family, are shaking just as surely as Dover, Delaware was shaken by an earthquake on Thursday. Political, religious, civil, and cultural leaders and figureheads are falling, as corruption and scandal – especially the scandals of our long-ignored culture of sexual abuse, assault, and coercion – cast down the mighty. This does not seem like good news.

Nor did it in Isaiah’s day. The reliability of life had shifted into an uncertain future. The people did not know how to make life work, what to hope for, or what God was up to in all of their struggle and suffering. The nation was scattered, the city a ruin, and those who had returned from exile found little more than shacks and thieves. O, Lord, that you would rip open the shaking skies!
And the skies were shaking in the days of Jesus and his first disciples. The Romans were an ever-present threat, and any day they might decide Jerusalem was worth more destroyed than together. All the stars of public life were falling from grace, and some were being literally crucified for their crimes against the powers that be. In this context, then, Jesus says that this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

What, then, are these things? How does God make all things new? God sends the Son of Man in the darkness of a night at Bethlehem. God tears a hole in the shaking skies at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. God casts down the self-righteous political and religious powers as Jesus reveals their hypocrisy. God heals the sick, frees the bound, and begins to make all things new for those who have nothing. Keep awake, Jesus says to us all.

Keep awake in the evening, when he breaks the bread of the Lord’s Supper. Keep awake at midnight, as the disciples fall asleep, and flee from the arresting mob led by Judas. Keep awake at cockcrow, as Jesus is condemned and as Peter denies even knowing him. Keep awake at dawn, as he is led away to Pilate. Keep awake, for the throne of God is the cross. Keep awake, for it is at nine in the morning when they crucify him, and it is from noon to three when darkness covers the whole land, until he breathes his last. At three, the curtain dividing God from the world is torn in two, from top to bottom! There, on the throne of God, God dies.

God dies, because God comes down. God came down into the time of Isaiah to restore faith, to heal a nation, to give new life to a people walking in darkness. God came down in manger of Jesus to give new life. God came down in the baptism of Jesus, tearing open the heavens to be God with us, among us, suffering just as we do. God came down to the cross and the grave, dying so that those who die do not die alone. God comes down, here in the word and sacraments, so that we might be made new, shaped into the body of Christ for the life of the world. God will come again, in Jesus the crucified and risen, and it will be at a day and an hour that we do not expect. All of this is good news, because we keep awake not by being afraid, but by knowing who God is and how God works – in weakness, in love for us and the world, in mercy and grace!

This is how the potter who shapes us and our world has always worked. In the midst of turmoil, of fear, of instability, God is making all things new. In the dark. In the stillness. In the tomb. In the manger. In the eye of the starfall. Here, now, as the skies shake and the world passes away, Jesus calls us again. These words will not pass away: God is awake, God is working, God is not done with us yet. Keep awake, for the kingdom of God has come near! Keep awake, for God is going to take this moment, this mess, this time of turmoil, and work resurrection and life despite all the evil and grief of the world. Keep awake, for Jesus calls us now to watch in wonder what God is working as the world, and the skies, shake.
Come, Lord Jesus! And let the church say, amen.

This sermon was preached for the First Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2017, at The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The readings were: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; and Mark 13:24-27.