The Church as Highway Department

Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Luke 1:46-55

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Not long ago I heard a program on NPR about the use of satellite images by human rights groups as a way of tracking atrocities in South Sudan.  Using before and after images human rights workers are able to track changes in the landscape that might indicate a mass grave or the razing of a village.  The satellite images also offer a chance, in some cases, of heading off attacks because preceding a major advance the Janjaweed militias will have to clear trees and build roads to allow their forces to move heavy artillery.  In another recent NPR story about the history of the American interstate system, the author of a book on the subject talked about how Eisenhower, with his military background, liked the idea of long, broad highways that would allow for quick military deployment in the event of an attack.

These NPR stories came to mind when I read Isaiah 40:3, the passage of scripture John the Baptist quotes as he explains to the official religious authorities who exactly he is: “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way o f the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3b).  There is a military sensibility at work in this proclamation that certainly wouldn’t be lost on John or Isaiah’s hearers.  God is making an advance; God is coming to attack the world of robbery, greed and enslavement that have plagued God’s people.  This is not an advance of violence, but rather of liberation and restoration—“good news to the oppressed…liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” Read more

The Living Gospel

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11

Psalm 85

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

Advent has a powerful way of clarifying our vision because it takes us back to what is most basic. This week the gospel is front and center as our texts identify the content and shape of the good news.

Too often, however, we can assume we already know what the gospel is. Namely, the gospel is a static body of knowledge we already possess. Central tenets or creeds, Four Spiritual Laws, Seven Habits, or a political platform consisting of one issue or several—give assent to these things, and you know the gospel. And once possessing the gospel, we move swiftly to implementation.

Such reductionism inevitably leads to deformity.

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A Small Part in a Great Story

Isaiah 7:10-26; Matthew 1:18-25

By Matthew 1:18, Matthew has already named Jesus as the Messiah several times. Indeed, Matthew’s genealogy is constructed to show that the son of Joseph and Mary is also the Messiah. Reading the birth narrative in light of the genealogy helps us remember that what we encounter in this particular birth is the continuing of the story of God’s covenantal love for his chosen people, and indeed all the world. The birth of the Messiah comes as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and David as well as in the wake of the sad history of the murder of Uriah and the deportation to Babylon. The genealogy reminds us that the birth of the Messiah is part of the history of God’s action with and for God’s broken people.

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Advent Outdoors

Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146: 5-10 or Luke 1:47-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

The haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes
. Isaiah 35:7b

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. Read more

The Son of Man Is Coming

First Sunday of Advent:

Isaiah 2: 1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13: 11-14, Matthew 24: 36-44

And so we begin the waiting…again.  Paul writes, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”  We are two thousand years nearer now and still we wait, surrounded yet by too much night.  My husband likes to take the time to talk with our 7 year old son about the resurrection – that day of glory when Christ will come again and make all things new.  The other night, out of the blue, Jameson’s last words before falling asleep were, “I hope the resurrection happens soon (to which I replied, “Amen”) – while I’m alive…that would be neat.”  And I was struck with how much was caught up in that word “neat” – all the hopes and fears of all the years.  As the dark maw of cholera devours people in Haiti, as abnormal amounts of rain drowns people and crops in too many places, as corruption cripples and crumbles the foundations of nations, I am inclined to shout to Jesus, “would you hurry up and get here already!”  Read more