Reflection on Third Sunday of Advent
by John G.
Philippians 4:4-7. We are all living after 9/11
in a world of fear, marinating in ever-present if often unconscious
anxiety. Where to from here? What comes next? We hardly know.
Reaction, retribution, revenge ironically imprison the one remaining
Superpower within acids of self-destruction. Anxiety envelops
us all, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, or not "religious"
From within an imperial prison centuries older than ours a paradoxically
free spirit writes a letter. Facing death, he looks instead and
intently, as he writes, at a new community who shares with him
across hundred of miles a common vision and outlook on lifeand
death. He and they are free, he writes, even though we can neither
forecast nor control what comes next.
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near."
The first "Advent" has told us what and Who comes next:
The Lord is near. No matter what self-appointed "realists"
say, the Lord is near. No matter what the horizon has sewed up
for 360 degrees around us, beyond present appearances the Lord
is near. "Rejoice," therefore, and "let your gentleness
be known to everyone." No Abu Ghraib here. No Guantanamo
Gulag. No full spectrum dominance. Only this: "Rejoice in
the Lord always
You want homeland security, a secure fortress against catastrophe,
and peace within? "Rejoice in the Lord", "do not
worry about anything," "Let the same mind be in you
that was in Christ Jesus" (2:5), and then what? "And
the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard
your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." "Guard,"
a military action! But here with a difference, for the Subject
of that action is a Shalom (a peace, wholeness, health) that God
only knows, and for that reason gives. The peace of God, and that
alone, will stand guard over you. "The Lord is near."
Zephaniah 3:14-20. It would be a huge mistake for
us Americans to take Zephaniah's poetic joy in the expected restoration
of his capital city, and transplant it into super-patriotic claims
of American exceptionalismas if this nation had a "manifest
destiny" to rule the world, as if we were different from
other nations in purity of motive and wisdom of geopolitics.
In fact, not even ancient Israel received Zephaniah's joyful
prophecy without having first undergone refining judgment in "the
Day of the Lord" for having "listened to no voice"
and "accepted no correction" (3:2). If the People of
God were not, in prophetic understanding, "exceptional,"
how could the USA be "exceptional," above international
law (as in Geneva Conventions), and entitled to special treatment
(as in having her officials exempt from judgment by other countries
for their crimes in those countries)?
Luke 3:7-18. What God wills to "come next"
was made plain in the Advent of Jesus. About that event John the
Baptizer's colloquies with crowds, tax collectors, and soldiers
made commentary. Quite rightly John presses home the point that
the first Advent is useless unless we allow Jesus' coming then
to continue now as we "bear fruits worthy of repentance."
It is useless to speculate about coming events over which we
have no control. What matters is this: "Whoever has two coats
must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must
do likewise." And this: "Collect no more than the amount
prescribed for you." And this: "Do not extort money
from anyone by threats or false accusation
These are specific, exact, unmistakable portraits of Advent living.
They are full of political import, economic consequence, social
reconstruction, and psychological innovationall evidences
that "the Holy Spirit and fire" have come among us,
extending Jesus' advent into the 21st century.
Not only in these texts, but throughout the history of God's
dealings with God's People it is clear that, as Catherine Keller
claims: "Theology always means---whatever else it means---theopolitics.
However deeply faith may retreat into privacy, God-talk begins
and ends among the res publica, the public things.'"
[God and Power: Counter-Apocalyptic Journeys (Fortress,
2005), p. 135] According to Luke, to see the meaning of Advent
is to see Jesus within the public square among crowds, tax collectors,
soldiers. This Advent is known in every valley, every mountain
and hill, among crooked ways and straight ones, along rough ways
made smooth until "all flesh shall see the salvation of God"
(Lk. 3:5-6; cf. Is. 40:3-5).
Canticle 9, "Ecce, Deus" (Is. 12:2-6).
The point of Advent is that we might behold God in Jesus the Christ,
and live in that light. Here again as in Phil. 4 "the Lord
is my stronghold and my sure defense." That is the source
of both inner and outer life: "draw[ing] water with rejoicing
from the springs of salvation" and living in such a way as
to "Make his deeds known among the peoples
We are all living after 9/11 with the same mission we ever had:
"Rejoice in the Lord always.
Let your gentleness be
known to everyone.
Do not worry about anything.
thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is
just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of
praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that
you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the
God of peace will be with you."
G. Gibbs a retired theologian attended Trinity Episcopal
Church in Park Rapids, MN, when he wrote this reflection
in 2006. John and we welcome your comments. Please address
your comments or additional reflections to John
G. Gibbs or any MEESC
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