The Adventurous Lectionary – The Second Sunday of Advent – December 9, 2018
“Are we there yet?” beg the children in the midst of a long automobile trip. “How much time left?” we ask as we prepare for an important occasion. “When are things going to change?” persons living with daily injustices and indignities plead.
Advent is a season that joins patience and restlessness. We are waiting and waiting isn’t easy, whether in our personal, professional, or political lives. Once December rolls around, we want Christmas now! (Even though we’re not prepared liturgically, homiletically, or personally.) 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. National policies often take years to change. 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. But, do we have enough time -whether in preparing for Christmas, responding to congregational trends, or confronting climate change?
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. We need a season of spiritual de-cluttering! 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.
While we may appropriately choose to give generously to our friends and family, our generosity must extend beyond ourselves. The joy of family unites us with the larger human family and all creation. By own spiritual values and practices, we can midwife the birth of Christ in our families and communities. We can be loyal and generous to those around us, but we need to enlarge our circles of care to embrace world loyalty.
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. We can name the places – Pittsburgh, Parkland, the borderlands, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, California. Addiction is epidemic on Cape Cod where I pastor. As a nation, we are ambivalent about welcoming Syrian and Central American refugees, and greet asylum seekers and their children with tear gas. Our own addiction to non-renewable resources puts the Earth in jeopardy. Regardless of is advance, the handwriting is on the wall in terms of climate change despite the bloviations of non-scientist politicians. John’s message then and now, as Mary’s words 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, repentance is possible. We can turn around and take a new path in life. 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 economic and political forces of evil must be neutralized and transformed and this will require sacrifice. To survive as a planet, we will have to give up certain freedoms and simplify our lifestyles. Cultural values of non-sustainable growth and consumption 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.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and writer, the author of nearly 50 books, including “I Wonder as I Wander: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Madeleine L’Engle,” “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World,” “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims,” and “The Work of Christmas: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Howard Thurman.”