December 4, 2016
I know Advent is about waiting for the coming of Jesus, but some of the readings are downright frightening. Is there a theme to the readings of the season?
The short answer to the question is that there are themes to the season by week, by half, and by whole.
Here is what this means. Each Sunday in each of the three liturgical years has a set theme. The first Sunday in Advent is about the coming time when God through his representative will set the world right. It is eschatological (i.e. "end time"), but more about the correcting of creation rather than its ending. The second Sunday of Advent is about the promises of God expressed through the prophets, those strange and wonderful men who had such an affinity for God that they could serve as his heralds and could serve as the herald of the people of God so that God might know the peoples' pain too. These first two Sunday's are more "Second Coming-ish" than about the "Nativity."
The third Sunday begins the focus on the "Nativity." John the Baptist is always the feature speaker on this Sunday and his preaching is to be heard as the precursor to Jesus and his ministry. The fourth Sunday refines the focus onto the birth of Jesus. Here, we read about the Angel Gabriel, the young woman Mary, her cousin Elizabeth, her en-utero cousin John the Baptist, and her betrothed Joseph. This is a story line which by its domesticity is more familiar and more accessible. But even in these stories there is a looming sense of foreboding with the future life and death of Jesus.
The theme of hope for all of Advent is the hope of God's presence with us and the surprising way he accomplishes this, through ordinary and unremarkable people, excepting the remarkability of their faith. Because this season deals in the mysteries of God, some of the stories are worrisome, and the language even frightening (i.e. 2 Advent Year C, when John calls the visitors from Jerusalem a brood of Vipers and warns that Jesus will take an axe to the root of the withered tree of Judah), but such is the paradox of God's passionate desire being expressed by humans. Our language and understanding is insufficient to the task, and our surrender to God's will is a struggle of eschatological proportions.
Listen for these themes in Advent each year. They are repeated again and again almost as a meditative device, to remind us of our need for God and the surprising ways that God makes himself known.
The Rev. David Lucey