The Adventurous Lectionary – Third Sunday of Advent – December 11. 2202
Advent is a time for hopeful transformation. It is a time of birth and possibility, of horizons of hope that liberate our imaginations and energize our actions. Advent is global and not parochial, inclusive and not anthropocentric. Creation and humankind lean toward wholeness; creation groans and so do we. We imagine a new age – an age of Shalom – despite the realities of war, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, sexism, and polarization. Even the non-human world will rejoice and blossom, reflecting God’s dream for humankind, and the interdependent nature of healing and wholeness. God is at work in all things, restoring the broken, healing the sick, and welcoming the outcast. The dream of Shalom seems impossible, but we must live in hope and know that it won’t happen without our efforts.
In a time of uncertainty about the future, Isaiah sings the glad songs of restoration. “The wilderness and dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom,” the blind shall see, the deaf hear, the lame dance, and the speechless sing. The whole world, which once groaned in pain and desolation, is now bursting forth in liberation. What happens to humankind shapes the non-human world, and God’s salvation includes the non-human as well as the human. All things are joined in a fabric of interdependence: as one part is healed, all share in healing. As Paul was to note in Romans 8, the whole creation groans, and the groaning of creation reflects our own inner quest for healing. Global climate change, species destruction, and humanity’s oppression and injustice mirror each other. When we mistreat the non-human world, we discover that this same violence spills over into our human relationships. Harming other humans leads to the destruction of the environment. Conversely, the healing of nations and nature are intertwined. Isaiah describes a healing incarnation, eight centuries later embodied in Mary’s womb and Jesus’ birth.
With reports of unprecedented temperatures at the polar caps, severe weather, and the threat of global climate change to all creation, both human and non-human, the Isaiah passage tells us to love the Earth, our mother, and live simply and encourage our political leaders to do so as well. We must not abandon the quest to save our planet – it is in our hands – God has called, and to be faithful, we must respond, and our response enhances or limits what God can do in our planet, personal lives, and community. Advent isn’t for the passive; it is a call to prophetic healing actions. God needs us as companions in healing the earth.
Women as well men can be prophets. God moves in the cells and souls of all people, and when we say “yes” to God’s movements in our lives, we receive prophetic inspiration appropriate to our life situation and personal gifts. Mary’s song of praise expresses the interplay of her unexpected pregnancy and the liberation of humankind. God’s movement in Mary’s womb and God’s transformation of governments and economic systems are of one piece. Inspiring the message and mission of today’s liberation theologians, Mary shouts out God’s preferential option for the poor and dispossessed. God hears the cries of the poor and responds with liberating intentionality.
God turns the world upside down in the quest for justice. God’s joy and our well-being are interconnected. The divine pathos, as Abraham Joshua Heschel asserts, reflects God’s care for the smallest details of life; our pain is God’s pain, our joy is God’s joy. But, given the increasing gap between rich and poor in the USA and throughout the globe and many politicians’ preferential option for the rich in terms of tax policy and the white in terms of voting, Mary’s words leave us speechless and impatient. Advent is a restless season, joining both deep peace and deep dissatisfaction, both inspired by God.
Advent asks us: When will the mighty let go of their largesse for the simple survival of millions? When will those who have sacrifice for the half-nots? When will our nation place the health and welfare of the multitudes above a preferential tax and legal option for the wealthy and powerful? When will we focus more on the entitlements given to wealthy corporations and individuals than modest entitlements given to unemployed single parents? When will we repudiate violent nationalism, homophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism?
The Letter of James counsels patience, grounded in trust in God’s eventual victory. Yet, in light of the whole message of James, patience does not imply passivity. Patience can be a catalyst for agency. James is an epistle of ethical activism and care for the downtrodden. Faith without works is worthless. We must be patient with the movements of God’s moral arc of history; we must not give up hope nor should we polarize in times of challenge. God’s nearness challenges us to justice-seeking, grounded in care for those whose power we confront. Pray for the President and Congress even when you may be inclined to protest their policies. They too are God’s children, and as they and we seek to gain the world, their souls may be in jeopardy. (For more on James, see Bruce Epperly, HOLISTIC SPIRITUALITY: LIFE-TRANSFORMING WISDOM FROM THE LETTER OF JAMES)
Jesus’ response to John the Baptist echoes the hopeful vision of Isaiah 35. The Messiah is known by the appearance of good news at every level of life. Good news is lived as well as spoken. Bodies are healed, outcasts welcomed, and impoverished given hope. Jesus’ gospel is holistic and life-changing and gives preferential care for those at the fringes of life.
Jesus’ apparent dig at John – “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” – is, in fact, a word of affirmation and call to agency. John’s prophetic ministry and call to repentance invites us to do great things ourselves. We are called to be actors in history and proponents of the new age God envisions for us and our world. John prepares the way for Jesus and for us as well. We have a calling to bring good news to our world – to heal, welcome, and restore. We are to be prophets in our own circles – living toward a vision of wholeness and equity.
Advent reminds us that another world is possible. New life can emerge from the ruins; the desert can bloom; and lives restored. This is the result of patient partnership. God takes the initiative and invites us to be innovative as well. Our agency enhances the incarnation of God’s vision of Shalom in our world. We can’t wait passively for a Second Coming, God is coming to us now and wants us to act with grace and persistence for the well-being of the planet and its peoples.
The adventurous preacher challenges us to be God’s partners in planetary and personal healing. Where does our church need to embody spiritual horticulture? Where do we need claim our vocation as healers? What great things do we need to embody God’s realm in our community’s work in the world? What will it mean for us to have an adventurous Advent?
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over seventy books, including THE ELEPHANT IS RUNNING: PROCESS AND OPEN AND RELATIONAL THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS PLURALISM; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; MYSTIC’S IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; WALKING WITH SAINT FRANCIS: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; MESSY INCARNATION: MEDITATIONS ON PROCESS CHRISTOLOGY, and FROM COSMOS TO CRADLE: MEDITATIONS ON THE INCARNATION. His latest books are THE PROPHETIC AMOS SPEAKS TO AMERICA and REPAIRING THE WORLD: THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS WITH FRANCIS AND CLARE OF ASSISI. He is also the author of the “12 Days of Christmas Books” – Celtic Christianity, Howard Thurman, Madeleine L’Engle, and Francis and Clare, from Anamchara Books. He can be reached for seminars and talks at firstname.lastname@example.org.