Domesticating God

Advent 1 – 2014

Mark 13:24-37 (Isaiah 64:1-9)

Marian Free

 In the name of God whose power exceeds anything that we can know or comprehend. Amen.

This week I was half way through a wedding rehearsal when there was the most eerie sound – a sound like the intake of breath that ended with what I can only describe as a rather loud popping noise. Moments before I had seen black clouds to the south and so I knew without further investigation that what I had heard was the decrease in pressure before the clouds unleashed a torrent of hail. Even though I knew what to expect, the experience was terrifying. All along the southern side of the church hail smashed into our beautiful stained-glass windows – shattering the glass and sending shards flying from one side of the church to the other. The force and impact of the hail was extraordinary and all that I could think about was finding a place in which we could wait out the storm in safety.

Hardly had the storm begun than it was over – leaving a swathe of destruction throughout Brisbane. Windows were shattered, roofs blown from houses, trees uprooted, cars crushed, power lines brought down, roads and even stations flooded.

Experienced up close, nature is absolutely formidable and totally uncontrollable. In the face of such ferocity human ingenuity is completely ineffectual. No amount of technological advance can withstand the force of nature at its worst. The best that we can do in the face of such power is to hope that we will survive and, having survived, pick up the pieces and start again.

Natural events – earthquakes, storms, tsunamis – all expose the insignificance and vulnerability of humanity in comparison with the vastness and potency of creation as a whole. Earthquakes, floods and tsuamis can destroy entire cities and change the topography of the land. Floods and mudslides can carry all before them. Nature is as violent and unpredictable as it is benign and life sustaining. Despite our best efforts, it cannot be manipulated or bent to our will.

If creation is beyond our reach to control, how much less is the God behind creation within our grasp to manage or direct?

The prophet Isaiah knew this and could only imagine that if God were to visit the earth it could only be in a dramatic and world-shattering way, that the God who created the universe and all that is in it was more powerful and more terrifying than anything that the natural world could throw at us. God’s coming would tear the heavens apart and God’s presence would do nothing less than change the face of the earth – the mountains themselves would quake, the valleys be raised and the mountains laid low, there would be no need for sun and moon, for God would provide perpetual light.

The gospels took up this theme and developed it even further. As the gospel writers saw it, the coming of God would completely transform creation – the sun would be darkened, nor would the moon give its light, the stars would fall and even the powers of heaven will be shaken at the coming of the Son of Man.

Despite these breath-taking and frightening images, I suspect that most of us are rather blasé about the Second Coming of Jesus. If we think about it at all, we associate it with our death or else we have rather romantic images of Jesus’ arriving peacefully on a cloud and gathering us to himself. Centuries of Christianity have led to a certain complacency, a tendency to domesticate God, a belief that all is right between ourselves and God and an assumption that we can know and understand God and God’s purpose for us and for the world.

The readings today put the lie to that kind of thinking. We are reminded that God is magnificent and awesome – beyond our ability to understand, let alone control. We are forced to consider that in the scale of things and in comparison to the universe as a whole we are of less significance and are less powerful than a speck of dust. If nature cannot be contained by our best efforts, how much less are we able to control God.

Advent begins, as the church year ends, with dramatic and vivid descriptions of God’s coming among us. The intention is not to make us cower in terror, but to fill us with awe at the nature and power of God, to remind us of who we are before God, to prick our inflated egos and to expose our arrogance and self-reliance.

Whether God’s coming is as quiet and unobtrusive as a birth in a far off land, or as dramatic and earth shattering as the re-arrangement of the universe, it will not to be caught unprepared. It does us good to be reminded that God is always just beyond our grasp because familiarity can lead to complacency and lead us to believe that we are in control when nothing could be further from the truth.

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