I love Advent. Growing up, it was the only liturgical season my church celebrated consistently, and I loved it even then. My family lit the Advent candles at home each week, and we had a calendar with little doors to open each day, and a book that went along with it, telling the story of Jesus’ birth, one paragraph for each day of Advent. We put up the Christmas tree and drank eggnog afterward. And then there was my very favorite part, setting up the nativity scene, with all the delicate figurines that my mom had inherited from her grandmother and an open-front stable built by my dad.
With this as my picturesque image of Advent, the passages for this first Sunday of the season are often jarring! Amos’ prophesies of God’s harsh judgment on the nations surrounding Israel, and then chastises Israel and Judah themselves just as harshly. Jesus’ teachings in Luke 21 and Paul’s writing in 1 Thessalonians 5 speak of a coming and sudden “day of the Lord” with apocalyptic overtones of upheaval and destruction. This is not exactly what we think of sweet baby Jesus in the manger, coming to us as a vulnerable child, the Son of God becoming the Son of Humanity.
Both, however, are part of the meaning of Advent, and both are equally necessary for us to consider. Advent celebrates and remembers Jesus’ coming in Bethlehem, but it also looks ahead and prepares us for Jesus’ coming in the future, when God’s reign will be brought to completion. In the in-between times, our times right now, he calls us to keep working: working toward Jesus’ vision of the world as a place of hope, joy, peace and love for all people, and working alongside the God whom we worship.
The psalms this week offer some inspiration as we actively prepare for and participate in Jesus’ coming this Advent:
Let us seek wisdom through reverent fear of God (Psalm 111.10).
Let us joyfully delight in God’s call and commandments (Psalms 111.2; 112.1).
Let us give freely and generously of ourselves to others and act with justice in all we do (Psalm 112.5, 9).
Let us join in God’s work of lifting the poor and the needy from the dust, and offering joy to the sorrowful (Psalm 113.7–9).
Let us, like the Lord, feed the hungry, gather outcasts, heal the brokenhearted, sing praises and hope in God’s steadfast love (Psalms 146–147).
Let us claim and embody the God of hope for the world. Amen.
Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies