The Adventurous Lectionary – The Second Sunday of Advent – December 6, 2015
Advent is a time that joins patience and restlessness. We are waiting and waiting isn’t easy. We want Christmas now! We want fulfillment now! We want spiritual growth now! We want the world to change now! But the moral arc of history and our own spiritual arc often move slowly, organically, and at their own speed. The healing of grief can’t be fast forwarded. The healing of a wound can’t be sped up. Our own personal and communal growth takes time. The agents of change must claim urgency and also recognize that long-standing and permanent transformation takes time.
Philippians speaks of a harvest of righteousness. Paul imagines the growth of the Philippian community as similar to the growth of plant. God has begun a good work, the seeds of faith have been planted, and if we nurture these seeds, they will flourish and bring an abundant harvest for our community and the world.
Philippians makes several important affirmations: 1) God is the source of all good gifts; 2) God is working in our lives; 3) we can enhance the growth of God’s gifts by spiritual practices; and 4) these gifts can evolve into a great harvest. (For more on Philippians, see my Philippians: A Participatory Study Guide, Energion Publications)
A spiritual harvest may require a refining fire. That’s the message of Malachi. Get rid of everything inessential. Throw out the cumber in your life. Malachi reminds us that Advent is a time of refining and simplifying. Faithfulness involves focusing on the deeper meaning of Christmas, God’s incarnation in our lives and the coming of Christ among oppressed peoples. Refining is aimed at transformation and liberation of what is best in us and our communities. It involves a new heart and a generous spirit.
John the Baptist’s message challenges us to turn around – to forsake the ways of death – so that we might be prepared for Christ’s coming. We have experienced too much death recently. Religious extremists wreak havoc in Paris and Africa and try to create a theocratic state in the Middle East. In our own land, African American youth fear the law enforcement intended to protect and serve. Addiction is epidemic on Cape Cod where I pastor. As a nation, we are ambivalent about welcoming Syrian refugees, and virtually all the Republican presidential candidates threaten to deport non-documented workers, despite their strong work ethic, American born children, and necessary role in our economy. Our own addiction to non-renewable resources puts the Earth in jeopardy. John’s message then and now, as Mary’s works in Luke 1:68-79 assert, is to bring light to darkness and help the lost find their way.
John the Baptist’s message, as recorded in Luke’s Gospel, is harsh, but it is ultimately liberating. Despite our participation in the ways of death, we can turn around. We can use the freedom we have to change our ways, to transform our value systems, and create structures of life. As Malachi recognizes such transformation may be painful, not unlike a refiner’s fire. The military and political forces of evil must be neutralized and transformed and this will require sacrifice. Cultural values need to change and “downward mobility” may, at first, be painful. Spiritual surgery is always painful but the new creation that emerges brings wholeness and joy, and the promise of a harvest of righteousness. This is the message of Advent: prepare for the coming of Christ by changing your life and giving birth to Christ within and among us.