Advent and the Joy of Working for a Better World, Part 3

Advent and the Joy of Working for a Better World, Part 3 December 14, 2023



The symbols being contrasted, then, are those of priest and prophet. The priesthood represented those who had been coopted by Rome and were barely more than puppets of the absentee emperor, Caesar. Whoever held the position of high priest was designated as such by Rome, and the priesthood’s chief responsibility was to ensure that whatever actions took place in the Jewish temple state, those actions did not violate the Pax Romana. 

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(Read this series from the beginning at Part 1 and Part 2.)

In contrast to this elite class in John’s society was the symbol of a prophet in the wilderness. This symbol stood in a long lineage with Hebrew prophets who continually called those in positions of power back to justice. Again, how the most vulnerable in society was taken care of or exploited was a matter of fidelity to their God. Faithfulness to God implied living justly in relation to one’s neighbor. Those who participated in the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition stood on the margins of their society, calling those at the center and those in positions of power and privilege to return to a path of distributive justice. 

This rich heritage of justice prophets is the heritage that John the Baptist is characterized with in each gospel. 

What does this say to us today?

For me it tells me to keep my ear to the ground and my eyes not on the establishment; to listen to those outside, on the edges, the margins, the undersides of society, and the calls for justice they are making. It brings to mind such movements today as the Poor People’s Campaign, or the Movement for Black Lives, or movements like we saw at Standing Rock calling for justice for indigenous communities and an end to the extraction and pollution of their lands. It brings to mind the recent Women’s March on Washington and movements for LGBTQ justice and inclusion. It brings to mind those today calling for justice for the thousands of innocent Palestinian lives being taken. Who is in the wilderness today? What justice needs are they raising awareness for? Or, in the language of this week’s passage, what is the “way” that they are preparing for God’s future of love, compassion, justice and safety to arrive, a world that is a safe, compassionate, just home for us all?

Who, in other words, are the John the Baptists of today? 

In our story, John was preparing the way for the one whom the synoptic gospel authors borrowed the words of Isaiah to describe:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen one in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him,

and he will bring justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1, cf. Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22)

Who today are preparing the way for justice to be brought to the nations?

Who are the ones on the edges, working within the grassroots of our communities preparing the way so that when justice is accomplished, it finds rich soil to take root and remain? 

In our story, when God’s just future arrived, it was crucified by the powerful, privileged and propertied. We have the ability today to write a different ending to the story, one that stands awake to the resurrection of God’s just future. 

But this season is not the season of Easter, yet. This season is advent. And this weekend’s theme is the joy of Advent. As difficult as doing preparation work in the wilderness is at times, there is joy in knowing what it is you are preparing the way for. We are preparing the way for the advent of a world where love is our guiding principle. There is joy in that assurance, and our labors are not in vain.



Finding Jesus book coverHerb’s new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is now available at Renewed Heart Ministries.

About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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