For What or Whom Are We Waiting? Advent Reflections on Jeremiah 33:14-16

This fabulous Hebrew word is so rich as to defy easy definition. It means, among many other things, "administration of justice" (mishpat, a word with which it is often paired); "the justice of a case"; "rightness of speech"; "ethically right"; "justification in controversy with enemies"; and, perhaps most importantly of all, "YHWH's continual covenant keeping attribute, leading to redemption and freedom for God's people." In short, the righteous branch, promised by Jeremiah, will major in righteousness in all of its facets, and will himself/herself be noted for her/his righteousness. I make the pronouns inclusive, for though Jeremiah, following a long tradition, almost certainly had a male monarch in mind, this future righteous branch is hardly to be limited to males. Righteousness is no respecter of gender.

Now, at last, back to Advent. For what are we waiting? I admit to a certain weariness about this supposedly joyous season. It promises fun, frolic, pleasure, goodies, familiar music, the glow of the candles, the gleam of the crèche, the glamor of holiday clothes, and movies. And, above all, the little baby Jesus, resting in whatever he was resting in. My grumpy historical self knows full well that Jesus' traditional time of birth, "in the bleak midwinter," is likely not true. Shepherds would not spend nights with their flocks in the dead of winter, but likely in the spring. Baby Jesus may come in December so that the pagans' solstice celebrations would not keep the upper hand. And his miraculous birth (found only in two of the four canonical Gospels) strains credulity to the breaking point, matching the miraculous births of other worthies (see Sargon of Akkad for an Assyrian parallel). Maybe, for me, the whole romance and nostalgia of the thing is finally unsatisfying and faintly obscene. Just where is the righteousness in all of it? How am I to see and practice righteousness when I too often am suffused with the candle glow and the star in the east?

Yes, I sound like the Grinch, I know. Old Scrooge has nothing on me. Perhaps I need a visitation from the ghosts or to be enthralled by the child-like singing of those presentless Whos down in Whoville. But no; I do not think I need either one of those. My Advent waiting soul does not need to be beguiled by ghosts or wheedled by song. What I miss is righteousness, my own and the world's. Whatever Advent means, it means the coming of YHWH's righteousness. When we pray all year, "thy kingdom come," what we are praying for is the coming of God's righteousness, God's true speech, God's unbreakable love, God's establishment of a real peace, suffused by righteousness for all of God's people. At the last, I indict myself in all this. I have done too little to advance the righteousness of God in this world and in my own life, and I fear that a wallow in the season will once again push me away from what the season is about at its core, nothing less than the righteousness of God. So, welcome Advent once again. May your magic come into my life, and may I see clearly and act vigorously in the righteousness of God.

Note: I wrote this prior to the atrocities in Paris on November 13. It might have taken a different tack in the terrible light of that event, but I am not sure. Certainly, righteousness remains the key to Advent for me, but given many of the responses from our government and other governments to the attacks, I am more than convinced that a clearer definition of what righteousness in such situations may be is needed.

11/24/2015 5:00:00 AM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.
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