2nd Sunday of Advent

December 8, 2002
See Also: 

Year A
Year B
Year C

Advent Candle Liturgy

John Cobb on Incarnation
Daniel Day Williams on incarnation
Preaching Christmas

Reading 1: 
Isaiah 40:1-11
Reading 2: 
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Reading 3: 
Peter 3:8-15a
Reading 4: 
Mark 1:1-8
By Bruce G. Epperly

"Comfort and Agitation "

It has been said that the task of the prophet is both to agitate the comfortable and comfort the agitated. A good preacher, like a good physician, knows when to challenge but also when to reassure. Today's Advent passages challenge and comfort, and agitate and reassure.

While the focus of today's readings is traditionally on John the Baptist's call to repentance, John's call exists as a chapter in a long tradition of prophetic utterance. Isaiah speaks of the possibility of rehabilitation and transformation. As Whitehead notes, God's aim at wholeness, "the best for the impasse," may, at times, seem more destructive than creative. Isaiah's listeners have endured captivity. Their sinfulness and alienation from God has led to serious consequences, but now the debt is paid and the people can begin again.

Isaiah, like the Hebraic prophetic tradition in general, recognized a relationship between personal and social behavior and the events of our lives. Acts have consequences. While process thinkers believe causation is multi-factorial, they still recognize that our values, spiritual lives, and social morality have consequences. Though such consequences may not be linear, and though there is no exact calculus between righteousness and good fortune and sin and punishment, the consequences of our acts still are real and can shape our lives and the lives of others for good or ill.

After a time of trial, a new day is on the horizon, a new path has been forged, the desert will blossom, and homecoming awaits the exiles. In the midst of suffering and challenge, it is a great act of faith to trust that God will have the final word - that cancer, divorce, abuse, depression, social injustice, and violence are temporary and will be transformed through God's patient care and constant inspiration.

Though the notion of mortality and perpetual perishing can lead to anxiety, there is hope in transformation. Flesh is like grass, but God's loving care endures forever and will outlast any pain, defeat, or injustice.

The Psalmist notes that "salvation is at hand." Amid chronos time, God's kairos time bursts forth. "This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."

In the midst of the darkest night, light emerges, a way is made, and we find healing and wholeness in our marriages, relationships, life-histories, and communities.

While the words of Peter can be read apocalyptically, I suggest that we look at them "kairotically. "  Destruction is part of creation. Transformation  in relationships, personal life, and economics and political life may require the destruction and letting go of old patterns and priorities. The ways of consumption, injustice, sexism, and racism lead to death. Old idols and prerogatives must give way to new possibilities for love and unity.

God's aim at wholeness often comes as a "thief in the night," as a synchronous encounter, a surprising insight, an unexpected challenge. Unless we expect the possibility of healing and inspiration, we may not see them when they are in our midst.

Personal openness to the divine is essential at every level of life. Liberals have underestimated the importance of personal holiness and godliness. While we should not neglect the social dimension of life, healthy, life-affirming, chaste, and self-giving actions open us to experience God's ideals in each moment of our lives. Just as we follow a program of exercise and diet to maintain and enhance physical well-being, a life devoted to following God in each encounter maintains our spiritual centeredness and receptivity to divine inspiration.

This is the point of John's admonition to "repent. "  John calls us to an "examination of conscience" on both the individual and social levels. If, indeed, our lives are our gifts to God – our contributions to God's "consequent nature" – what kind of world are we giving God?  Do our relationships with our families, spouses, friends, and co-workers add beauty to their lives and to God's life?  Do our social policies, ecological actions, and economic priorities bring joy or sorrow to our planetary companions?

In this moment, repentance is always possible. We can begin again. We can turn from death to life and alienation to community. God is luring us toward a realm of beauty and love – "the coming of the day of God" is here, in this kairos moment, ready to transform, refine, and heal us.

Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God, written with Kate Epperly, and selected as the 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. He can be contacted for conversation, lectures, seminars, workshops, and preaching engagements.