THIS is why I like Advent so much. It is a big tease. We're still swimming in prophecy. No Mary, no Joseph. Waiting is hard. It reminds me a little bit of the advent calendars that I enjoyed as a child -- the ones with little perforated windows that you open to reveal a picture. And for about the first 20 days of the month, the pictures were sort of generic, hard to figure out where they were pointing - cookies, candies, toys, maybe a snow man. But as you got closer, the symbolism grew. A star, a shepherd, an angel.
We're not yet to those really easily understood "windows" yet here in Advent 3.
Drawing deep from the prophets, both the reading from Zephaniah and the reading from Isaiah represent the hope of Jews in exile. Zephaniah references retraction of judgement, a promise of changed circumstances in which the oppressed will victorious, exalted, beloved, safe. Speaking into recent current events, these promises are refreshing.
I am really drawn to Isaiah 12:3, which replaces a psalm this week - "with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." This passage seems like a pep talk of sorts -- speaking of the goodness that is to come. Praise and thanksgiving are encouraged...for promises yet to be fulfilled, only glimpsed in hope. Were the people able to see signs of things getting better? Or was it a sense of "surely this much change eventually. Our God has liberated us before. Surely God will again liberate us."
Similarly, Paul's letter to the church at Philippi seems to be encouraging hope for things yet unseen. Praise and thanksgiving are precursors to fulfillment. The Lord is near. But the Lord is not necessarily right here.
But in the gospel reading from Luke, John the Baptist is a little less encouraging. Repent you brood of vipers... Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? This sounds like high stakes. His encouragement is to bear fruit worthy of repentance. Fruitful lives will be spared. And baptized with the Holy Spirit. This mention of the Holy Spirit by St. John the Forerunner has also captured my attention this year. So often we attribute the promise of the Spirit's arrival to Jesus' promises as his end draws near. But here we have John unveiling the possibility right before the launch of Jesus' ministry in Galilee.
What does it mean for our faith to be high stakes? Not born of tradition or of ancient promises, but of the lived belief that the Kingdom of God requires our fruitfulness? Do we live like our lives matter to the greater good? I've been swimming in a lot of reading about community lately. And a remembrance, in this season of global fear and unrest, that we are ALL made in the image of God and we cannot in fact SEE God without seeing the God in the "other." That is high stakes. Our choices matter. Our lives matter. Our love for others matters.
God, in the midst of shorter nights and longer darkness, help me to see glimpses of you even when I have to look in dark corners that I would often pass by without a second thought. Help me remember, before launching into my opinion or my self-righteousness that everyone I encounter is also made in your image - another piece that belongs with mine in seeing the fullness of Your glory.