Sunday, December 7, 2014

Reflection for Sunday, December 7, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings all address the Advent theme of expectant waiting.  They also fit together in a puzzling way.  Reflecting on this puzzle can help us see something important about God and ourselves.

The gospel reading from Mark quotes the reading from Isaiah.  Mark presents John the Baptist as Isaiah’s “voice crying in the wilderness.”  Once this voice appears crying “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God,” then “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”  Mark’s point: Jesus is the Glory of the LORD revealed. 

But if Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, then why are we still waiting, over two millennia later, for every valley to be filled in, and every mountain and hill to be  made low? Those are apocalyptic images, just like Peter’s image of the heavens passing away with a mighty roar and the elements being “dissolved by fire.”  Such images point to a day when all things will be set right, to a “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  If Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, then why do we still live in a world full of injustice?  Was the prophecy false?  Does God not keep promises?

The reading from 2 Peter addresses this concern. God has not yet brought all things to completion so that we have a chance to turn away from our deadening small concerns and begin to truly live.  God is merciful, “not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

The gospel reading also suggests an answer.  Recall what John the Baptist proclaimed:

“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus did usher in a new age, in which the Holy Spirit fills and enlivens the body of Christ.  Jesus has ascended, but is also present with us in the Spirit.  Jesus defeated evil and injustice once and for all, but through us is still fighting it.  We have already won, but not yet claimed the victory.  We can live in hope because in Jesus God surpasses our easy dichotomies.  God is not “either/or,” but “both/and”: transcendent and  immanent, divine and human, omnipotent and vulnerable (what is more vulnerable than a babe in a feeding trough?)

Jesus was the sunrise of a new day, but that day is not yet over.  We are waiting for God, and God is waiting for us.  Waiting for us to think again about what really matters.  Waiting for us to join the struggle against every system that refuses to honor God’s image in every person.  Since it is day, let us keep awake and join the fight, confident that the enemy has already been dealt the decisive blow.  Even as we struggle, we have already won.

Holy Spirit, give us a hunger for justice and the courage to pursue it, not only in our political systems, but also in our closest relationships and in our very selves.

Scott Ragland is a professor in the Department of Philosophy.

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