A Prayer Answered

A prayer answered. What prayer has been answered? The prayer I am referring to is this prayer from the Prophet Isaiah calling on God: "O, that you would come down from the heavens and help us even in the midst of the ways that we have gone wrong, transgressed because you hid your face from us. O Lord, come down from the heavens and claim us, redeem us, and reshape us because you are the potter and we are the clay."

Can we say that that paraphrased prayer has been answered? Can we, as people of the Christian faith who are now counting down the days to the arrival of the Christ-child again in our lives, say that God answered that prayer? Being that that prayer may have come thousands of years before Jesus' arrival in this world, can we say that God answered that prayer? Well, I declare to you that yes, God answered that prayer. And isn't it wonderful, as a people of faith with a long history, that we know that God answers prayer? We live in a different age where our expectation is that as soon as we finish our prayer with the amen, that God will answer our prayer immediately without hesitation. But sometimes we find that we too are waiting, much like the Prophet Isaiah and the Israelites in the midst of their difficulties and in the midst of their exile where they needed God's presence and guidance and needed God's touch in their lives again. We also experience that and may feel ourselves calling out to God in prayer to come and save us, to come and heal us, to come and forgive us, to remake us and remold us into who God wants us to be, who at the depths of our souls we want to be. And yet, as a people of faith with this long history of knowing that God answers prayer, are we willing to wait for that prayer to be answered? Are we willing for that answer to come in the next generation instead of our generation? Are we willing for that answer to come a thousand years from now, or two thousand years from now? I would say, "No, we're not ready for that." We have become accustomed to a much different lifestyle, a much different understanding and hope that God is going to answer each of our prayers as soon as we finish uttering them, either silently or aloud, collectively or individually. And yet, in many ways, God does answer those prayers.

In this particular instance, the Prophet Isaiah, giving hope to the people Israel, showing them, yes, that God does answer prayer, was not referring to the Christ-child that we know when we look back and say, "Yes, God answered this prayer in the coming of Jesus." During the time of the Prophet Isaiah, they were waiting on the Son of Man who would come, who would remake the world, and remake the people, and reclaim them for God and restore God's Kingdom in them. And that came in its own ways and its own time in the glimpses and experiences of the people Israel. For us, as Christians, we see the answer to Isaiah's prayer in the coming of the Christ-child, in the teachings that he would give as he grew up, in the ways that he would redeem the people through forgiveness, or a call to repentance, and a call for them to be changed. Jesus, in the many healings and miracles he did, was reshaping people and reshaping the communities in which those people lived. He showed them that healing was possible. And not just physical healing from their ailments, but also social healing for those considered outcasts, restoring them to families and restoring them to communities. He reminded people that, as a mark of repentance, one should not cheat their neighbor, but should love their neighbor. And he showed them the ways of God.

And so too that same prayer from Isaiah is still being answered in the time of Jesus in a way that is meaningful to us. And yet today's Gospel passage moves us beyond Jesus' coming, which in Advent we are all looking for, this coming of the Christ-child, this hope and love and joy and peace that comes into our lives at Christmas. The passage today moves us beyond this to a more uncomfortable thought, that Jesus may return and that we need to be ready. How many of us in the midst of our prayers and calling out to God to deliver us have really made ourselves awake and prepared that that day may come, that Christ may come and call for an accounting of what we have done as those who he has placed in charge in his absence? Have we kept awake? Have we kept ourselves prepared? Have we used that individual spiritual discipline of prayer and of looking at what Jesus taught and trying to emulate that with those in our lives, and even with the stranger? Have we done that? Have we been good stewards in charge of the Christian church doing his will as he proclaimed to us? Have we been honest with God and with ourselves about all those things that we know we should do? Those are part of the Advent experience, reminding ourselves that yes, we wait on this Christ-child to come, and with all the hope and love and joy and peace that that brings at Christmas. But we also are to keep awake and to keep the ministry of Christ going in the event that he may actually return during this generation.

Now, we may discount that particular part of the passage that we read from the Gospel of Mark that was written a very long time ago, the promise that no one from this generation will pass away before Christ returns. "Well, that was two thousand years ago, Mark. Sorry to bring it up to you, but that didn't actually happen." But did it? And was Mark being literal or was he actually speaking to us about the temporary nature of our lives, realizing that Christ may come for us as individuals at a very unexpected hour? And will we be ready when it is time for us to go with Christ to meet our Maker to have that accounting of what we have done and what we have left undone? In fact, that coming will come quickly for all of us. As most of you know, life goes very fast, and the older we get, the faster it seems to go. So let us be like the watchman, keeping awake and keeping alert, modeling our lives after what Jesus placed upon us as his disciples, modeling our lives after what God continually said to the people Israel and remembering that we are God's children, that we are the ones who proclaim ourselves to be the doers of God's word.

So let us spend this Advent season taking an accounting of our own lives. How are we keeping awake? How are we making the time to be ready for that unexpected hour? And what will we do when Christmas comes again this year? These are the questions of Advent. And during this time of waiting, it is important that we reflect on them. It is important that we look at them very closely and rededicate ourselves to the one who gives us life and the one who is bringing redemption yet again at Christmas. Let us do so, and let us be faithful. In Jesus' name. Amen.

November 30, 2008

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