Mark 13:24-37

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

This Advent especially, we may be hoping for new light in a world that feels so much like it felt last year. We hear news of indiscriminate violence, as the attacks in Mumbai attacks sound less and less concerned about who would be their victims. We see consumerism run amok, now with a tangible death toll (Black Friday indeed). It seems especially dark now, when consumer culture has progressed to the point of violence. It’s causing violence directly, and it’s inspiring violence – this attack on a gilded city sounds familiar to us for a reason. So we might ask, ” God, how much longer will you be angry with our prayers?”

The author of our Psalm asked the same question. He had seen the northern kingdom of Israel conquered by Assyria, and Judah was next. He could see the signs of the times, the military power lined up against Judah, and there was certainly no military power on Judah’s side. The end of the nation’s story was coming, and so the Psalmist asked God to make that story new again. He was, as we put it, “reduced” to prayer. We say that, because we often turn to prayer only when our other options have gone away.

That’s sort of like eating well after your heart attack – it’s a good idea, but you’re a little too late. It’s like writing a budget once your savings have run out – the best course of action is even more disappointing than what got you here. These are the right steps to take, but we should have taken them years before. Life builds up momentum. The Assyrians were on the march before Judah saw them coming and thought to repent. So too, we need to pray long before prayer is our only option.

Prayer doesn’t usually lead to quick fixes, the sudden change in the world we might wish for. The world changes slowly, and our hearts do too: repentance takes work. God answers prayer, but on His own time, and He may save us after we see the consequences of what we needed to be saved from. God delivered Judah, but only after the exile. God loves us too much to let forgiveness mean that we don’t have to learn from our mistakes. The answer to prayer may be silence, while God waits for us to figure out what we need to learn.

While we learn, God is with us, and in hindsight, we’re usually surprised at just how visible She’s been. God renounces the power to make us perfect instantly and instead goes the harder way. This is why, even though Mark promised that all this would happen soon, we still haven’t seen Christ return in power. Christ isn’t waiting at arm’s length for us to deserve engagement; Christ is waiting in pain with us. We slowly find Christ in our lives, always remaking us as God intended.

Our prayer calls God into our lives, and the Psalmist knows that God must start working to save the people. We need God’s mercy to shine on us, and fast. It seems as desperate as having the Assyrian armies surround us, but today is no less under God’s control than before: God is here. God is working out purposes larger than all our expectations.

So be open to the signs of this Advent. Call out to God, knowing that God is here. God will be with us on this Advent journey and always.