The Adventurous Lectionary – The Second Sunday of Advent – December 5, 2021
Advent is a time of prophetic restlessness. For seeing the contrast between the world as it is and the world that could be if we join in God’s vision of Shalom. In Advent, we are not only restless in anticipation of the Christmas holiday. We are also restless as we look at the world and national stage, and our own failure to live up to God’s vision for us and the world.
Advent is a time that challenges us to be both patient and restless. 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, and in accordance with our values and behaviors. 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. It may involve confession and sacrifice. Transformation involves both loss and gain, letting go to reach out. 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.
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 must let go of self-interest to embrace world loyalty.
Zechariah, the unexpected parent of John the Baptist has a message that challenges us to turn around – to forsake the ways of death – so that we might be prepared for new life, including opening to Christ’s coming. We have experienced too much death recently, whether through COVID or our memories of recent court cases involving the deaths through vigilante justice. In the shadows, there is light, but light both exposes and heals and recognition of our sin is essential to the healing process of persons and communities.
Zechariah’s message, as recorded in Luke’s Gospel, is hopeful and challenging and 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. This will require prophetic impatience and also the willingness to change our lives so that God’s realm be birthed on earth as it is in heaven.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over 60 books including MYSTICS IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; WALKING WITH FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; 101 SOUL SEEDS FOR PEACEMAKERS AND JUSTICE SEEKERS; and PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS.