Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146: 5-10 or Luke 1:47-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Debra Dean Murphy in her reflections on this weeks readings for Advent draws our attention sharply to the outdoor character of what we are waiting for in Advent. Here is no vague Aldi brand spirituality that we can briefly tune into as a form of therapy before resuming business as normal in the frantic rush to consume.
Wendell Berry observes that it’s not enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is. For many, such an insight serves mainly to underwrite the idea that we can worship God best in nature’s environs: mountaintops, seashores, golf courses. But I think that Berry is on to something else, as are the appointed texts for the season of Advent generally and for the third Sunday especially.The richness of the good news that surfaces in the readings for Advent is revolutionary in the deepest sense of that term. Walter Brueggemann advises us that:
The Advent scriptures are relentlessly eschatological: preoccupied with consummation and completion, concerned with all things, at long last, being set to right. ...
Even more of a challenge, perhaps, is the particular vision of Advent’s eschaton: transformed landscapes (blooming deserts, water in the wilderness); the glory and majesty of forests and mountains (Lebanon, Carmel, Sharon). Eschatology here is topographical, earthy, local. It is, at heart, about the renewal of creation. Christ’s second Advent portends not the sweeping of souls up into the clouds but heaven come to earth. It’s land reform, people.
But it’s people reform, too: blind eyes opened, deafness cured, lepers healed, the dead raised. It is justice executed: food for the hungry, prisoners set free, the rich sent away empty. It is good news, at long last, for the poor. (Advent Outdoors)
The news is that big change is coming. Mary sings (in Luke) her revolutionary song about the reversal of social arrangements and Isaiah offers a poem about homecoming for the alienated. Advent is about pondering the big changes that are set in motion by Christmas.
In the narrative about Jesus in Matthew 11, John the Baptizer wonders whether Jesus is the long expected Messiah. Jesus urges John to consider the “facts on the ground,” which are the consequences of Jesus’ effective ministry. The list of beneficiaries of that ministry is not unlike that in Psalm 146. The list includes the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead, and the poor (Matthew 11:5), that is, all the devalued and marginalized.. In the psalm “the Lord” does the work. In the narrative, Jesus does the work. Ergo … yes, Jesus is the Messiah. Yes, Jesus is the one expected and welcomed. It is no wonder that Mary sang her revolutionary song: the birth and ministry of Jesus constitute a social revolution that keeps reverberating through every time and place. (The Jesus Revolution)How do we wait for such a revolution? We are in this for the long haul as the reading from James reminds us. We wait patiently for the rain, we can't rush it, we can't live without it and sometimes it comes down not as the Palestinian farmers knew it in regular quantities and at regular times, but as we have experienced it in Canberra this week unexpectedly and with a force that reminds us we are not in control.
What does patience mean in a time of speed, where speed translates increasingly into violence against the world, animals and people, psychologically and physically. Note the kangaroos killed on the road, the people who lose family members in the road toll, those people who are notable to keep up with technology which places more and more demands on us to fit in with the drive to efficiency and has little pity for those who cannot accommodate themselves to its demands.
The ultimate in speed is war in which we refuse to take the time to converse with our enemy and assume that only the speed of violence can bring about change and justice. Patience begins with James reminds us not complaining against one another. Taking the time to listen. Patience is non-violence as a practice which trusts that we have all the time we need to be changed by our neighbour and by God so that we might be able to recognise and respond with joy to the changes that Advent is announcing when they actually arrive.