“God Is on the Way”

During Advent we wait for God, who is on the way. We wait, but we are not passive. It is essential that we prepare to receive the gifts of God—the birth of a child, the restoration of creation. There is a story about preparation I’d like to share. I asked a couple of friends to help me tell it. Soren and Emily, would you come up? (They read from Who is coming to our house? by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff.)

“Who is coming to our house?”

“Someone, someone” says Mouse.

“Make room,” says Pig.

“I will butt aside the rig.”

“We must clean,” says Lamb.

“Dust the beams,” says Ram.

“Who is coming to our house?”

“Someone, someone,” says Mouse.

“Sweep the earth,” says Chick.

“Stack the hay,” says Goose, “and quick!”

“Spin new webs,” says Spider.

“I will line the crib with eider.”

“Who is coming to our house?”

“Someone, someone,” says Mouse.

“Someone’s coming from afar.”

“I will nose the door ajar.”

“But it is dark,” says Cat.

“They will never come,” says Rat.

“Yes, they’ll come,” says Mouse. “Someone’s coming to this house.”

“I will lay an egg,” says Hen.

“I will spread my tail for them.”

“Who is coming to our house?”

“Mary and Joseph,” whispers Mouse.

“Welcome, welcome to our house!”

“God is on the way!” the prophet Isaiah proclaims. God is coming to our house. Preaching professor Barbara Lundblad describes the poetry of Isaiah 35 as a word out of place. Scholars believe that the book of Isaiah, spanning 66 chapters, was written by three different authors in three different generations. Chapters 1-39 were composed by Isaiah himself, during the time of the Babylonian invasion, when foreign armies burned Jerusalem, tortured and killed its inhabitants, and took into captivity those who survived. Later prophets living in better times wrote the remaining chapters of Isaiah—and they were the ones called to offer comfort, give hope and point toward restoration. So today’s passage is a word out of place because it is a word of joy bursting from the lips of a prophet whose world was in ruins.

As Michael Chan points out, even in this joyful text, we can still sense the pain of those living through the Babylonian captivity:

Their suffering is manifested in [references to] “weak hands” (verse 3), “feeble knees” (verse 3), “fearful hearts” (verse 4), “obscured vision” (verse 5), “hindered hearing” (verse 5), “broken bodies” (verse 6), and “silent tongues” (verse 6).

Chan concludes that:

The literary “body” constructed in Isaiah 35 has been utterly overwhelmed by despair and weariness. Their capacities needed to move through this world have been diminished. The exiles feel God’s sorrow in their very bodies.

“God is on the way!” the prophet Isaiah proclaims. God is coming to our house. This is a word out of place, as we continue to feel unhealed and unrestored amid our illnesses, our challenges, our dis-abilities. This is a word out of place, as hate and fear fill our nation. This is a word out of place when despair lodges itself in our bodies. And yet, the season of Advent urges to prepare. Our part is to make room for the Christ child to be born. And our preparation makes all the difference. If we carve out a space of expectation, we will receive the gift for which we wait. Our lives and our world will be filled with the sacred, the holy. We will hear the desert singing. We will see it bursting into blossom. We will feel the cool water of springs and streams irrigating its dryness. We will find the path toward a new future, the wide, inclusive road that leads home.

In today’s reading from Luke, Mary dances and sings with joy. For her, God’s act of giving a child has changed everything. “God knocked tyrants off their high horses, and pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold.” Advent is about preparing our senses to notice the signs of this transformation. Though tyrants still reign, the truth is that their perch is precarious. Though the suffering of victims is real, so are comfort, and compassion and justice. Though inequalities persist, God’s people can and will set a table of welcome.

This week, Daniel and I attended a press conference with ISAIAH MN, joining 100 other Minnesota faith leaders in declaring that we are committed to leading First Church in a process toward becoming a sanctuary or sanctuary-supporting congregation. The press conference declared our opposition to the new administration’s hateful rhetoric about immigrants and their promises to deport millions more people. Now, sanctuary is not a new concept; it has been around since the 1980’s. And deportations aren’t new either. In fact, a member of the press asked why so many churches were just now mobilizing to offer sanctuary, given that more people have been deported under President Obama than any other president. Isaiah organizer Grant Stevenson spoke my confession when he said: “Many of us standing here have been asleep, and we have been woken up by the terror and the fear that immigrants are feeling now. We intend to stay awake.” Because our immigration system is so broken, there is no “line” for people to get in to move toward citizenship. ISAIAH’s Latino organizer, Catalina Morales de Sanchez, addressed the claim that those who will be deported are criminals. She said, “I drive around without a driver’s license every day, and that makes me a criminal.” She added, “Those being deported are not criminals. They are moms and dads and they have no place to go.”

In the 41 days that remain before the inauguration, we cannot be silent. We must not be passive. We must prepare to receive the God who is coming to be with us. As the voice of hatred grows, what words of love and welcome will we speak? As families fear being torn apart, what steps will we take to keep them whole? As those without legal documents become more and more vulnerable to exploitation, how will we protect them? Shall we ready ourselves to be a sanctuary congregation, to house an immigrant family in danger of deportation? Or maybe we are called to be a sanctuary-supporting congregation, offering concrete support to an immigrant family housed in another church—providing essentials like food, clothing, supplies, financial support, and companionship? Let’s talk, and let’s act! Let’s discern together how God is calling us! Today after worship, the racial justice team will host intentional one-to-one conversations that include some time to express your thoughts and feelings about sanctuary. On Tuesday evening, the First Church Board meets, and will take time for discernment about sanctuary. In early January, we’ll be scheduling meetings for the congregation to gain more information about sanctuary and to get organized.

In the story, Who Is Coming to Our House? each animal has a particular role and gift, a natural way to contribute. Goat butts unused farm equipment out of the way; lamb and ram clean and dust, spider spins a fresh web, goose lines the crib with soft down. Even cat and rat, with their doubting, play an important part. And mouse, little mouse, holds the vision and the promise in front of them all, “Someone is coming.” God is on the way. How will we prepare to receive the holy one? What role is ours to play in making room for the renewal of creation?