The link to the article read, “At Occupy Berkley, Beat Poets Has a New Meaning.”[1]  I was drawn in.  Robert Hass, the former Poet Laureate of the United States and professor at University of California, Berkley was the author of the article.  Hass describes the encounter between police and the students and faculty at UC Berkley who had joined the “Occupy” movement protest.  UC Berkley is usually associated with “liberal hippies.” One conjures images in his or her mind of the flower children placing daisies in the barrel of a soldier’s gun.   The scene Hass describes in article looks very different from this image. Hass had heard from a colleague that earlier in the day the police had moved into to take down the Occupy tents, and that they had been “beaten viciously.”  Hass couldn’t believe this, certainly not at UC Berkely.  So, when he heard the police had returned, he and his wife went to campus.   I read on, and I’ll share with you some of what I read:

My wife was speaking to the young deputies about the importance of nonviolence and explaining why they should be at home reading to their children, when one of the deputies reached out, shoved my wife in the chest and knocked her down….My wife bounced nimbly to her feet. I tripped and almost fell over her trying to help her up, and at that moment the deputies in the cordon surged forward and, using their clubs as battering rams, began to hammer at the bodies of the line of students. It was stunning to see. They swung hard into their chests and bellies. Particularly shocking to me — it must be a generational reaction — was that they assaulted both the young men and the young women with the same indiscriminate force. If the students turned away, they pounded their ribs. If they turned further away to escape, they hit them on their spines…

My ribs didn’t hurt very badly until the next day and then it hurt to laugh, so I skipped the gym for a couple of mornings, and I was a little disappointed that the bruises weren’t slightly more dramatic. It argued either for a kind of restraint or a kind of low cunning in the training of the police. They had hit me hard enough so that I was sore for days, but not hard enough to leave much of a mark. I wasn’t so badly off. One of my colleagues, also a poet, Geoffrey O’Brien, had a broken rib. Another colleague, Celeste Langan, a Wordsworth scholar, got dragged across the grass by her hair when she presented herself for arrest.[2]

I was…I am…horrified.  Regardless of what you may think of the Occupy Movement, this is horrifying.  If you think they are a group of concerned citizens getting together to take action and protest, this is horrifying.  If you think they are a group of riff raff who have no business occupying these places, this is horrifying. What has happened to us, I thought, when peaceful protesters receive beatings?  What has happened to us, I thought, when a Wordsworth scholar is dragged across the grass by her hair?

Robert Hass’ account, and similar accounts and videos, of persons being viciously beaten in the midst of peaceful protest are almost too much to take at times.   It is important as I say this to not demonize all police offers in the midst of this, as many of them are in difficult positions.  Yet, Hass’ account is still frightening and disturbing.  As we struggle with lost jobs, as we struggle with broken families, as we struggle with turmoil and violence in the world, as we struggle with injustice, as we struggle with fear of those who are different than us, it is almost too much to take.  It is overwhelming.  It is often wholly depressing.  And, as people of faith, we begin to wonder, “When is God going to do something about this?”

That is how Isaiah felt, I think, when he wrote the lament we encounter this morning.  Isaiah is in the midst of a lament that began back in chapter 63, verse 7.  Isaiah has been recounting the deeds that God has done in the past, mighty deeds, such as the Exodus, and parting the waters of the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through.   As Isaiah writes, the Israelites are a people who have been conquered by Babylon.  The temple is in ruins.[3]  “Where,” Isaiah asks, “is this Exodus God?”  “Where is this sea-parting God?” And so Isaiah cries out,

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

 Yet, this God seems nowhere to be found. This God who “did awesome deeds we did not expect” is hidden.  Isaiah, and the people of Israel feel abandoned.  God has apparently hidden God’s self from them as a result of their sin.  But Isaiah isn’t going to let God off of the hook that easily.  He goes so far as to say that God’s hiding has actually caused Israel to transgress further!  “Because you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed” (64.5) Isaiah is essentially saying, “I know that we have sinned, but we are inextricably bound to one another.  We have sinned more because You have hidden Yourself!” This is not to blame God or let Israel off the hook; rather, it is to move God to action for the sake of God’s chosen people.[4]

As I read that article, I got that kind of “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” feeling for which Isaiah cries out.  Such frustration.  Such sadness.  Welcome to Advent.  Advent begins with a lament.  It begins with a cry.  It begins with a sober look at the state of things.   It doesn’t begin with Black Friday.  It doesn’t begin with the easy listening stations playing Christmas music.  It doesn’t even begin with Thanksgiving.  It begins with a cry of lament.  Why, you may ask, Alan do you think it is your job to constantly try to bum us out when we are trying to enjoy the holidays?  I don’t think actually believe that is my job.  My job, rather, is one of pointing.  It is of pointing to where God would direct our hearts during Advent.  And to begin with, God draws us to lament.  To begin with lament is not to begin a long series of Advent bummers.  Rather, to begin with lament is to begin at the beginning.

Lamenting is different than complaining.  If you look at the Psalms of lament, or the laments in the prophets such as the one we encounter this morning they are not simply complaining.  It is not simply a whining for God to solve all of our problems.  As biblical scholar Walter Bruggemann points out, lament is the beginning of hope.[5]  We can only hope when we have a clear sense of what is wrong.  We can only hope when we have properly lamented the brokenness that we see all around us.  We can only be clear about that for which we hope when we are clear about what has broken and hearts and drawn us to lament.

We can only know that for which we are hoping when we have seen so clearly what is wrong that we begin to demand that God do something about it.  A lament that moves towards hope is different that complaining that leads to wishing.  The difference between a wish and a hope is that hope is certain.  This is Isaiah’s disposition.  He recounts the deeds that God has done because he is certain that God is still there.  Indeed, even as Isaiah laments God’s absence, he returns to the sureness that God has not finally abandoned Israel:

There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity for ever.
Now consider, we are all your people.

Even as Isaiah laments God’s hiddenness, notice the intimate imagery he continues to ascribe to God.  He calls God Father.  He calls God the pottery, and Israel are the clay.  The people of Israel and God still belong to each other because they are in a familial relationship.  They are tied to each because God gives them their shape as a people.[6]  While apparently hidden, God is still present.  Even though Isaiah cannot perceive God’s presence, he speaks with hopeful words because he is certain that God will still act.

This is Advent.  Only after have we had perceived the depth of the brokenness, the depth of the sins personal and structural, the depth of our needs, can we perceive clearly the hope we are approaching in Advent.  Christ did not come to make things more awesome in a world that was already awesome.  Christ entered into a world where the poor need good news, captives need release, the blind need sight, and the oppressed need freedom.  And, as we will see, he entered into that world in poverty and a refugee from genocide at the hands of his government.  Christ came into a world that had been crying out for him for hundreds of years to be God’s decisive answer to the brokenness that the has a seeming strangle hold on the cosmos.

And so, in Advent, we enter into the discipline of patience.  We enter into the practice of looking around at the world, at all the places and people that desperately cry out for God to tear open the heavens, and we join them in solidarity.  To wait in this way is not to sit on our hands and do nothing.  Rather, as one commentator says, “It is a tensive waiting charge with the pathos of lament and conjoined with the joy of remembrance and the anticipation of praise.”[7]  To wait during Advent is not to bum ourselves out, but it is let the anticipation of Christ’s coming to swell in our hearts and minds as we prepare the way of the Lord.  It is, a “passionate patience.”[8]  And as we enter into the disciple of passionate patience, we will resist the temptation around us to look at ourselves and what we think we deserve for Christmas, and we will look outward to others, who are feeling that “God would tear open the heavens and help us” kind of feeling.  This week through the angel tree. Next week through Society of St. Andrew alternative gift-giving, the next week through bringing food for DAWN, and the final week of Advent through packing meals with Stop Hunger Now.

The hope, as we move forward in our passionate patience, is that we will encounter more clearly the one through whom God tears open the heavens.  Except that we don’t see lightning and shaking of mountains.[9]   Rather, the tearing of the heavens comes as the God of the universe takes on flesh and blood and becomes one of us.  The God who Isaiah sees as hidden remains hidden because not all recognize the God who has become one of us so that we might become like God.  This one who came, who did not “do something” about was wrong with the world through violence.  Rather, he “did something” by serving and offering himself up to die.

This is the one who reveals God’s power that is made perfect in weakness is the one in whom our hope certainly rests.  This one who invites both police and protesters into one family.  It is this one for whom we wait to come again.  It is this one who we heard about last week who makes it clear what our conduct should look like in the mean time.  It is he who tells us in our Gospel passage to “Stay awake!” as we swell with that passionate patience for the culmination of the kingdom.  And so, regardless of what you think about the Occupy movement, I invite you in these moments to Occupy Advent.


[1] Robert Hass, “Poet-Bashing Police” New York Times Online http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/opinion/sunday/at-occupy-berkeley-beat-poets-has-new-meaning.html, cited. Nov. 27, 2011.

[2] Ibid.

[3] William P. Brown, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1,  (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox, 2011), p. 3.

[4] Brown, “Exegetical Perspective,” p. 7.

[5] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1984), p. 52

[6] Brown, “Exegetical Perspective,” p. 7.

[7] Brown, “Exegetical Perspective,” p. 5.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Scott Bader-Saye, “Theological Perspective, “ Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1, (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 5-6.

Advertisements