This is the Second Sunday of Advent. The crush of the holiday to do list is upon us and there is little if any time to really ponder the depth of meaning that Advent brings the Church. The mission of preaching is to tell the story of the incarnation anew to equip the community for faithful witness of the good news of Jesus Christ. The story of Advent forms the foundation of our Christian faith. Let’s not dumb it down or miss the point because of familiarity. Let’s not get caught up too soon in the Christmas carols, in hopes the pain of our often joyless and pointless existences can be buried.
Be honest, we all need something new this Advent season. Advent is the time in the church year when Christians prepare to receive the Christ child. The incarnation, God coming to earth in the form of human, should cause each one of us to bow in worship. According to Mark Labberton, author of The Dangerous Act of Worship, “The crisis the church currently faces is that our individual and corporate worship do not produce the fruit of justice and righteousness that God seeks.” Worship is not about ourselves. Yes, we are to encounter God, but we are not to lose touch with “the other” world; that world made up of others who are desperately seeking a better way to live. That better way to live is why the incarnation happened, the God/Man coming to earth. Worship is to shape our vision for God’s world. We are to imitate Jesus by sharing his love in word and deed, particularly in acts of righteousness and justice.
Advent is a dangerous time in the church year, because we come face to face with our acknowledgement of who God is. And God in Jesus Christ is about righteousness and justice being experienced by “the other.” Jesus’ birth, promised second coming, and the coming Day of the Lord captures us and raises us to a higher level, that is, to repent of our preoccupation with self and to embrace “the other” in our midst. Kevin Miller, Executive Vice-President for Christianity Today tells the following story:
In April of 2008, I had to drive to Fort Wayne, Indiana, for work, so I went to Enterprise to rent a car. They gave me a big, brand-new, comfy Chrysler 300 to drive—and I loved it! In fact, I enjoyed feeling large and in charge so much that I blew right past the first tollbooth. You see, I’m not used to stopping for tollbooths, because I have an I-PASS in my own car—a little device that signals I’ve already prepaid my tolls. After passing the first tollbooth, I thought about it: Oh! This car doesn’t have an I-PASS! But just as I started to worry about it, I thought, this car belongs to the rental-car company—not me. So, they’re probably responsible for any tolls. That must be what your rental money goes toward covering. When I got on 294, I drove past another toll, thinking, even if I am responsible for the tolls, there’s only a few tolls between here and Indiana—maybe $4 round trip. I’m sure there’s some threshold where they don’t even bother sending you a bill for the tolls. I mean, it wouldn’t be worth their time to send me a bill for only $4. Nothing’s going to happen! After I returned home from my business trip, a month or two went by. Nothing happened—and I knew nothing ever would. But then, in October, I received a piece of mail that read: “Notice of Toll Violation.” I was right, to a degree. The Tollway Authority wouldn’t bother sending me a bill for my measly $3.90 in tolls. But when you add in a $20 fine for every one of the 5 tollbooths I drove past, they did bother sending me a bill for $103.90! I about had a heart attack. They had me dead to rights. They had a photo of my rental-car’s license plate. They even knew the exact lane number I was in. The fact that months had gone by and nothing had happened didn’t mean that nothing was ever going to happen. In a passage concerning the return of Christ, Peter says: “Get a clue, people! Just because the Lord hasn’t come back yet, don’t think for a minute that he won’t! The Lord isn’t being slow about his promise, as some people think. No—he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”
At Advent, we prepare to engage a hostile world with good news that seems to be ridiculous. Advent’s call to something new, the “Other/other world” is a call to renounce the gods we allow supremacy over against the God of Advent and to love others. Yes, repentance is in order for the “something new.” Richard F. Ward writes, “It does indeed seem that the God of Israel and of Jesus Christ has very little power in relation to other ‘gods’ that seem to reign in our ‘empire.’” At Advent we are to hear the promises of God and then sit with them through this season. Jesus came once and will return. As God is patient so are we to be. In between the first and second coming of Jesus, we experience and demonstrate justice and righteousness. This is the something new.
The lectionary readings boldly proclaim that culture has always been the tutor of the church and it’s not a good one. Culture as tutor is bad news. The market forces and pressures of culture have nothing to do with the way of God. Culture deadens our souls to “the Other/other.” In most cases, we have been tutored not to recognize “the Other/other world.” The depth of our sin, our “bad tutoring,” cannot be known apart from grace. So, we need to repent. The act of God continuing to create something new in us, each and every day, forms the basis of our worship. The something new is to experience and demonstrate justice and righteousness. Culture is a false messenger of what Christmas is about.
Advent announces the good news of something new: the coming of Jesus Christ is not a onetime experience. Every day Jesus comes to us. He points us to words and deeds of justice and righteousness, which represent the Other for the sake of the other. Who do you say Jesus is? Is Jesus liar, lunatic, or Lord? It is Jesus, the Creator come to earth, “the Other” who began something new, the unfolding of justice and righteousness into everyday experience for the sake of “the other,” who is the focus of our worship. And that focus is not primarily for ourselves, but for “the Other/other” in our midst.
Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 22.
Charles L. Campbell in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 31.
I am grateful for insights gleaned from W.C Turner, Judy Yates Siker, and George W. Stroup in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 41, 45, 28, and 30.