Reflection by Ryan Boettcher, based off of his sermon from Advent 2 (Dec 7, 2014)
We are in the midst of our 2nd week of Advent, a season that has a great deal to do with waiting and anticipation and longing. Waiting for God to remake the world. The bad news for at least some of us is that the type of waiting we are called to in Advent and in our lives is not a passive, sit back and twiddle-our-thumbs kind of waiting, though if we’re honest with ourselves, we might prefer it that way. Our Lectionary readings have a word for this kind of waiting. It’s called preparation.
Fr. Alfred Delp, a Jesuit Priest during the time of Nazi Germany, wrote from his prison cell about Advent: “There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more than to be genuinely shaken up…Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves. The necessary condition for the fulfillment of Advent is the renunciation of the presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams in which and by means of which we always build ourselves imaginary worlds.”
The problem with these “imaginary worlds” we build for ourselves is that they are imaginary. They do not reflect the world of God’s kingdom, where justice and peace reign, where racism and oppression and exploitation are actively rooted out, and where love of neighbor and enemy alike are sought after more than life itself. At best, our imaginary worlds (the ones we set up both in our lives and in our churches) tend to just ignore the world of God’s in-breaking kingdom. At worst, our imaginary worlds work against it.
As we heard last week, Advent is a wake up call if we allow it to be. It can be this “shaking up” kind of experience, if we allow the voice that is crying out in the wilderness to reach our own hearts. “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Our imaginary worlds love the Advent idea of waiting, if it is the kind of waiting where we don’t have to actually do anything. But the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist won’t let us off the hook. Nor will Fr. Delp:
“If we want to transform life again, if Advent is truly to come again—the Advent of home and of hearts, the Advent of the people and the nations, a coming of the Lord in all this—then the great Advent question for us is whether we come out of these convulsions with this determination: yes, arise! It is time to awaken from sleep. It is time for a waking up to begin somewhere. It is time to put things back where God put them. It is time for each of us to go to work, with the same unshakeable sureness that the Lord will come, to set our life in God’s order wherever we can.”
True Advent waiting is preparation. It is about waiting for the Lord to come—not by sitting back and twiddling our thumbs…but waiting the way Walter Brueggemann describes it: “from the bottom of our toes to the edges of our fingertips.”
And in the midst of all of this waiting and preparing, we hear the much-needed opening words of Isaiah 40: “Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God.” Isaiah 40 is about the lengths to which God will go to make a way home for His people. It is a message of hope, that God will not go back on His promises to return His people and bring restoration to the whole world.
I suspect that we need to hear these two themes during this Advent season, again and again. And I suspect we will hear it again before the season is over. The promise has been put forth. Christ will come again, like He did so long ago. And we wait, as Peter did: we wait for “the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” But our waiting takes the form of an active pursuit of God and His kingdom, an active pursuit of justice and peace in our world. May our lives reflect both of these realities—the word of promise that God is working and Christ is coming, and the word of challenge to us to prepare this Advent.