The Word of Life
Plastic nativity scenes. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Advent wreaths. Concerts. Christmas trees. Hot chocolate. “Silent Night.” I confessed to a preachers’ group a few weeks ago, “I love December.” And, all the familiarity may cause us, mistakenly, to feel that we know the season of Advent better than the backs of our hands. We know the songs and the decorations. But there may be a new word for us to hear if only we are ready.
The American poet, Mary Oliver, asserted, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” How well are we paying attention during December? The distractions, of course, are myriad.
During Advent, we do not merely pretend and reenact our surprise and joy at the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. Rather, we recalibrate our hearts and minds to the hope, peace, joy, and love of God. We need this season, and we need it again each year. Before we are able to see and hear Jesus fully, we must ask ourselves, what is the hope, peace, joy, and love of God?
The prophet Isaiah reminds us through the years, as he exclaims, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn,” (Isaiah 61:1-2).
Much like the season of Lent, Advent serves as a period of preparation and anticipation. What has become one of my favorite Advent hymns, “Canticle of the Turning,” invites us to sing, “My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.”
This hymn is modeled after Mary’s song at her meeting with her relative Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55). If taken seriously, there are few more radical texts in all of the Bible. Take for instance, “My soul magnifies the Lord…the Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly…”
The Old Testament scholar, Walter Bruggemenn, observes, “Jesus lives the song that his mother sang.” The whole gospel story may very well be heard in Mary’s lyrics.
Therefore, the history of the world turns, almost unbelievably, on the simple birth of a child born in poverty because he will challenge the exploitative establishment and will speak for the voiceless. He will put his life on the line, and indeed, will give his life. This is what the love of God looks like in public.
During Advent, we prepare our hearts to be challenged and to be renewed by the living Word in our midst.
May the Word of Life speak afresh to us this Advent.
Grace and peace,