When it comes to Advent, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. By this I mean that I prefer the old themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. I don’t think we can go wrong with these. On the other hand, I’m not fond of the references to the Second Coming that are included in the Advent readings. I prefer to dwell on a kind of spiritual housecleaning in which we make room for God in our lives once more. This year, though, in the familiar texts I hear a call to the community to live more fully (deeply?) into God’s promises.
Isaiah paints a lovely picture of the people of God gathering on God’s holy mountain to receive teachings and to travel on holy pathways. When this happens God will bring about other things, good things. God will judge between the nations and peoples, presumably seeking to raise up justice and righteousness. Then God will end wars, turn swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks making it so that humanity will no longer learn the ways of war. It’s a hope-filled vision for sure. However, if we wait for God to do these things without sharing responsibility for making them happen, I’m not sure it matters that Christ has come, is come, and will come again.
Psalm 122 also invites our participation in bringing about God’s reign on earth. We need to be praying for the people of God, the cities, the towns, the nations. Praying for our/their welfare and seeking the good for the sake of others. Perhaps when the church in all its varied forms takes up this work in earnest, the beauty and wonder of Isaiah’s prophecy will be fulfilled. We cannot learn war when we are seek the greater good for our neighbors as well as ourselves. It might not matter how clean our own spiritual house is if we are not meeting our neighbors’ needs for justice.
Some of us might be content with the Isaiah passage and the Psalm pointing toward Jesus, however, the Second Coming is impossible to escape in the Romans and Gospel readings. While I am not inclined to think that Jesus is going to return any time soon, the advice Paul gives is, for the most part, pretty good (though I highly recommend making some provision for “the flesh”). We live in a world that could use a healthy dose of hope. If we who claim to be the body of Christ do not wear the “armor of light” and combat injustice where we encounter it, who will? How will the world discover the hope of Christ if we who are followers of Christ do not embody that same hope?
I’m inclined to believe that the Second Coming is a description of the day when all Christians embody the same Divine Love that Jesus did. Of course, this might just be my way of making myself more comfortable with passages like the one in Matthew. We do need to always be preparing for the day when Christ will return. If we are all always preparing by working for the good of all, then it is likely the day of God’s reign will begin sooner rather than later.
All this is to say that I feel compelled to encourage my congregation to attend to their personal spiritual house and also, and perhaps more urgently, to how well or consistently we as a community embody Christ for our neighbors. Do we travel on God’s holy ways or are we still learning the ways of war? Are we creating more ploughshares or swords? Do we respond to the hopelessness in the world around us by reaching out in love or do we hunker down and continue doing what we have always done? Can we be the Hope needed now? Can we invite all our neighbors to live on God’s holy mountain?
Where are your thoughts this Advent? Are you going with the traditional themes or something different? Please share your thoughts that we may make this journey to Bethlehem together.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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