Where Are You God?Posted: November 30, 2014
Where Are You God?
SLIDE 3: FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
On the first Sunday of Advent we are ready for Christmas Carols, decorations, holiday trees, parties and the Christmas Story – a baby in a manger, shepherds, Wise men, angels, Mary and Joseph keeping watch over the Christ Child. People have put up their Christmas Trees and all of the stores have been playing Christmas music since before Halloween. But that is not the way the Lectionary works. Advent is the time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah and so the Lectionary takes us to the Psalms – Psalm 80 specifically – a Psalm of Asaph.
SLIDE 4: ASAPH – WHERE IS GOD WHEN WE NEED HIM?
Asaph is credited with the writing of Psalm 50 and Psalms 73 to 83. He was a musician and worship leader in the Temple, and in several of his Psalms he laments the absence of God. Where is God when we really need him? Israel enjoyed a brief Golden Age during the time of David and Solomon, but new archaeological studies have thrown some doubt upon just how “golden” was that age – more like bronze or even lead – just a cut above stone age. The Israelites were always a small nation surrounded by large and powerful neighbors who delighted in beating up on and extracting tribute from small poor countries like Israel.
Occasionally the Great Empires of the Fertile Crescent would fall apart in civil war and for brief periods the Israelites could flourish. The first Temple was built during the reign of Solomon. King Ahab accumulated considerable wealth and had many horses and chariots, so that the Northern Kingdom of Samaria was a force to be reckoned with. But then a major power would arise like Egypt, or Assyria and then Babylon and all of the little Kingdoms were squeezed by their more powerful neighbors.
SLIDE 5: SPEAKING POWERFULLY OF THE ABSENCE OF GOD
We don’t know exactly when Psalm 80 was written, but Asaph’s lament sounds like Jerusalem was under siege. How long must we suffer O Lord? Where are you when we really need you? The Psalms are not all full of sweetness and light with God appearing every moment to reassure us and give us hope. No the Psalms often speak most powerfully to the absence of God. Maybe that is why Jesus on the cross turned to the Psalms: Psalm 22: 1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
SLIDE 6: LEARNING TO WALK IN THE DARK
God is not always present. Sometimes when we are in the depths of illness, grief and pain, God seems very far from us. In the words of Jesus on the cross, “Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” As the title of our study book says, sometimes we are left with “Learning to Walk in the Dark.” The prophet Habakkuk received a vision in response to his complaint: I’ll climb to the lookout tower and scan the horizon. I’ll wait to see what God says, how he’ll answer my complaint.
SLIDE 7: WAIT – IT WILL COME AT THE RIGHT TIME
And then God answered: “Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.”
SLIDE 8: REMEMBER WAITING FOR CHRISTMAS?
But waiting is so hard, especially when we are in grief or pain, or suffering depression. Waiting is also hard when we are children waiting for some anticipated surprise. Remember what waiting for Christmas was like as a child? The anticipation, the excitement, the anxiety of waiting for presents, gifts, wonders. Would it really be there under the tree? Remember trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve? Of course, the world has changed. I was at the Mall and saw a little girl climb into Santa’s lap, and the store Santa asked her the classic question: “And what would you like for Christmas?”
The little girl stared at him open mouthed and horrified for a minute, and then gasped: “Didn’t you get my E-mail?” Even Christmas has changed.
SLIDE 9: TWO BEDROOM PARSONAGE
Beth and I started married life with three children ranging in ages from 9 years to 2 – talk about brave and clueless. We were living in a tiny two bedroom parsonage about two blocks from the church. We managed to survive by turning the what had been intended as a study into a bedroom for Beth and I. We had no closet. The house was so old the two upstairs bedrooms did not have closets, and there was no place anywhere in the house to hide presents before Christmas. The garage had bats, so we couldn’t store a car there much less Christmas presents.
SLIDE 10: CRAWL SPACE BEHIND THE FURNACE
The kids were pretty sneaky too. They took great pride in trying to discover their gifts before Christmas. So Beth and I began hiding the Christmas presents in the scary crawl space full of spider webs behind the furnace at the church. East Main United Church of Christ had an 11 p.m. Christmas Eve Service. So, we didn’t get home to begin putting kids to bed until 12:30 p.m. Jennifer fell asleep during the Christmas Eve Service, but Leah and Geoff didn’t settle down until at least 1:00 a.m., and only then could I go back to the scary crawl space and begin transferring presents from the church to the house. I don’t know if it is still true, but in those days almost every toy needed a battery or two or three or four.
SLIDE 11: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED
And then there was that euphemistic phrase, “some assembly required,” which meant you needed a minimum of 12 – 24 credit hours in mechanical and electrical engineering and at least two days to put the toy together. Beth and I didn’t finish getting all the toys ready until 5:30 a.m. Christmas morning, when we fell into bed exhausted.
SLIDE 12: WAITING EVEN FOR GOOD SURPRISES CAN BE DIFFICULT
And what was the chance we would be allowed to stay in bed after 6:00 a.m. on Christmas morning? We had just fallen asleep, when three faces appeared at our bedroom door proclaiming that Santa had come and they wanted us to get up, so they could open their presents. Waiting even for good surprises can be difficult.
SLIDE 13: WALK IN THE DARK AND WAIT FOR GOD
The purpose of Advent is to teach us how to walk in the dark and wait for God. Think of all the people who have stared out into the darkness of oppression, pain, suffering, depression, and injustice who have waited for God and longed for a glimpse of the light. The purpose of Advent is to teach us about hope – hope that can sustain us in the long wait for God. The kind of hope that kept Martin Luther King going. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
SLIDE 14: HOPE
“I have climbed to the mountaintop and I have looked over and I have seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that as a people we will get to the Promised Land.” Hope that could foresee God’s promised deliverance even without him.
SLIDE 15: HOPE IS NOT EASY
We might be tempted to think that the hope of a Martin Luther King was easy. But there were times when he suffered deep depression. Sometimes driven by the threats to his life, the stubborn resistance of racism, and his own internal contradictions King would go to bed exhausted and be unable to get out of bed for days. Hope in the darkness is not easy for anyone. Advent is to teach us never to despair and to wait, to wait in faith.
SLIDE 16: THOSE BRAVE ENOUGH TO TRUST
Tony Robinson one of the Still Speaking Devotional writers offered an insight this week: “Years ago, during an especially challenging time in my life, a lovely older friend gave me a three by five card with these words written on it: ‘There is, in the universe, a power forever on the side of those brave enough to trust it.’ I think she was telling me, despite all, keep showing up just as fully as you possibly can. And even when it’s hard, even when you feel you are crippled in some way (aren’t we all?), keep on trusting wildly in God.”
SLIDE 17: KEEP SHOWING UP AS FULLY AS YOU CAN
I believe for churches this seems like a dark time. Attendance all over is down. Money is tight. Young people seem to have abandoned the church, and spiritual but not religious sort of means the institutional church is in trouble. So this Advent let’s remember these words: “When it’s hard, keep showing up just as fully as you possible can. And even when you feel crippled keep on trusting wildly in God. For there is in the universe, a power forever on the side of those brave enough to trust it.”