Advent 2012. Third Sunday

The last thing that Advent promises is a generic faith. It certainly does not advocate a search for meaning and spirituality wherever one may find it, wherever one feels blessed.

The texts for the Third Sunday of Advent are Zephaniah 3:14-20, Philippians 4:4-7, and Luke 3:7-18. As always, I encourage you to read these passages. It might take a few facebook minutes from your schedule, but the words found in these texts will assuredly be of greater value.

What these texts speak about is the coming of a very specific person. It is a coming with specific characteristics, particular hopes, and particular expectations and preparation. And it offers a particular standpoint from which to gaze upon a world filled with both good and evil. That standpoint is not dependent upon our analysis of the perceived balance between the two extremes; it is instead a standpoint of faith. And it is a particular kind of faith in that particular person whose coming had been announced.

The One who is expected will bring cause for great rejoicing, especially by the ones who have suffered under oppression. But it is a coming in which everyone has a stake, a hope, and a future. “With his love, he will calm all your fears.” (Zeph. 3:17, NLT) He will deal severely with oppressor and save the weak and helpless ones. He will give a good name for those who have been unjustly disparaged. We all want justice in the world. We don’t know where to turn to find it. It is in his hands, and there alone. All our efforts at maintaining justice are noble and good; but they are also flawed, sometimes seriously so.

That justice will not stop with meting out punishment for only the most notorious offenders. No one gets a free pass simply because they see their particular station in life as insignificant. When John went to preach and prepare the way for Jesus he called on particular persons to exhibit their desire for a share in the kingdom by changing their ways personally. He didn’t tell them to march on Jerusalem, much less on Rome; he told them to do the things they do daily with righteousness and fairness, with consideration of the other over whom the status quo allowed them an upper hand.

There is something uplifting about being held responsible. It tells us that what we do matters, that our decisions our meaningful, and that our lives are of importance. If it does not matter what we do, we are diminished. And if we are accountable not just to a parent or teacher or arbitrary ruler, but by the Maker of heaven and earth, we gain significance. And if that very Maker comes in person and asks us to give an account, we might want to hide. Or we might want to accept his invitation to turn from whatever ways we have walked disobediently and be healed of the damage we have done to ourselves and of the damage others have done to us.

Generic spirituality cannot do this. If faith is something we “like to believe” or imagine, with no evidentiary basis beyond our own preference, we will never be delivered in the day of the Lord’s appearing. Believing “just so” stories cannot prepare us for participation in what God is doing to redeem the world, however much psychological comfort they bring temporarily. But for those who hear His word and look for His coming, there is opportunity to see His redemption at work in the midst of whatever ills the world brings upon us. The true, the good, the just, the praiseworthy; people of the Redeemer can look for these things daily, even as life seems to crumble about us.