The Grim Reality of Advent
Preparing for the Fourth Sunday of Advent: One Day Before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 80:1-7
Old Testament: Isaiah 66:7-11
Gospel: Luke 13:31-35
God of the covenant, in the glory of the cross your Son embraced the power of death and broke its hold over your people. In this time of repentance, draw all people to yourself, that we who confess Jesus as Lord may put aside the deeds of death and accept the life of your kingdom. Amen.
The quote above by Jason Micheli reveals to us the tension of Advent. During this time we prepare for the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. There is much joy even in the preparation. We see it everywhere we look. Houses and shops are decorated with trees and lights. We attend Christmas concerts and social gatherings. In fact, I think it is safe to say that many people in America do not even observe Advent; this time is just one big Christmas celebration.
Yet, for those who observe Advent, there is a real tension. This is a time of joy in our Christmas preparation, and yet there is a serious and sobering quality to this time. We read from the Old Testament prophets pronouncing judgment on disobedience. We listen to John the Baptist calling people nests of snakes and warning them to repent and get ready for the day of God’s visitation. In our Gospel reading for today, we observe Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Throughout Israel’s history God wanted to protect his people like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wing in times of danger to protect them; but they continued to go their own way. And now, that same God who has come to Jerusalem in Jesus, sees the Holy City continuing in the same destructive path. Jesus sees the same brokenness, sin, stubbornness, and self-centeredness that led to Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 B.C. and he knows a second destruction is on the way. Nothing has changed. Jesus laments over his people.
The people of Jerusalem were not a special case when it comes to brokenness and sin and self-destructive behavior. Rebellious behavior that leads to injustice and war and violence is not a Jewish problem alone, nor an American problem alone; it is a human problem. God has made us in his image and instead of stamping God’s world in that divine image, we have created a world in our broken and warped image of sin. It was Voltaire who said, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.”
During Advent, the celebrations echo in the background as the church faces the difficult, the uncomfortable. We “take a grim look at ourselves.” We face the truth that all is not right with the world, the church, nor ourselves as individuals. We cannot welcome Jesus’ first coming, nor anticipate his second coming until we lament our rebellion against God and repent of our disobedient ways.
We must never forget that the righteous rage of the prophets always gives way to divine hope. God will save; but we dare not ignore the preparation necessary to celebrate the coming of that salvation. That preparation is not about making sure the turkey is ready for Christmas dinner, nor forgetting to buy the cranberry sauce, and purchasing those last minute gifts. Our Advent preparation must involve the difficult and jarring truth that we need help that can only come from outside ourselves.
German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that Advent is like
…a prison cell, in which one waits, hopes - and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside.
In Advent, we remember that help will indeed come to us; but such help is only possible if we face the grim realities of our current human situation and in lamentation, confession, and repentance allow Jesus to gather us under his wings.
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