How Long, O Lord?

A Homily for Wednesday in the Second Week in Advent

Text: Isaiah 6


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

“How long, O Lord?”

This is the Advent question.

For kids, it’s “How long until Santa gets here?”

For retail workers, I would assume, it’s, “How long until long hours, the massive crowds, and the constant barrage of unending pop Christmas music stops?”

For most of us, it’s “How long until Christmas?” The wreath, remember, is little more than a count-down clock, a 150-year old tradition to keep incessant questions at bay.

But the Great Tradition is more concerned with another question, the one that Isaiah asks: How long until the Lord’s coming? During Advent, we sit and wait — not just to prepare our hearts and minds for the Feast of the Nativity on the twenty-fifth of December, but even more so for an event completely outside of our control on a date as yet unknown: the last day when Christ shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

In this between-time, we wait and we ask:

How long must we endure this tumultuous world?

How long will sin and death reign?

“How long, O Lord?”

Facing down the threat from a rampaging Assyrian Empire, the newly-called prophet Isaiah asks, “How long?” And the answer is not exactly good news.

Cities reduced to rubble, vacated as the Israelites are sold into slavery or forced to flee south as refugees seeking asylum in the southern kingdom of Judah. A civilization decimated, and then attacked again and again. It’s like a tree, saith the Lord, that has been cut down, the stump burned, and the roots dug up.

This is what it is like to wait for “doom or a breakthrough from heaven.” This is, in a word, dread.

“How long, O Lord?”

It is a familiar question — one we have lived out twice over this autumn, waiting for our brother Bill to recover and waiting for our sister Anne to find healing. As the days stretched into weeks and on into months, hope gradually faded and gave way. We sat, waited, we prayed we waited, many of us visiting Anne’s bedside. And now we find it’s time to say good-bye.

“How long, O Lord?”

It’s the cry also of the psalmist:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

How is it that Isaiah, confronted with the terror unveiled before him can preach trust in God’s steadfast love? How is it that the psalmist can sing to the Lord? How are we supposed to hold fast to hope through the pain of this world? What rejoicing can there be?

Beloved, look to the cross. See where the Son of God hung condemned. See where the creator of the cosmos felt the sting of sin and tasted death.

And behold — it is empty.

The evils of this world may roar for a time; our enemy may rule over us for a time. But in these latter-days, we know that Christ is risen, and we shall live with him. That last day is fast approaching, when Christ shall return and make all things new.

How long, O Lord? Not long.

Amen.

 

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