Advent is a time of sitting and waiting, but also for anticipation and preparation.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that our preparation for the coming of God’s great gift is about preparing ourselves, and the world around us, for the change that will take place before our very eyes. To some, this change will be redemptive – and for others, condemnation.
For the loser now / Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’…
The line it is drawn / And the curse it is cast
The slow one now / Will later be fast
As the present now / Will later be past
The order is / Rapidly fading’ / And the first one now / Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
One can undoubtedly hear echoes of the Gospel in nearly every line of Dylan’s prophetic tale. What we often miss, however, is that the heart of the Gospel is beating to the rhythm of Israel’s ancient prophets – especially Isaiah. What John prepares the people for (remember, Isaiah 40?) is the coming fulfillment of God’s desire for justice. The Gospels, then, illustrate in various ways how this will come about, but this one thing is clear:
Some will benefit from this coming justice more than others.
What troubles many of us is that, according to the gospel, those of us with power, wealth, status, prestige, and even happiness, if not careful, have the most to lose in the coming Kingdom of God – while those who are weak, poor, ostracized, and yes, even sad, if we are attentive, have the most to gain. My sense is, more often than not, those who find themselves in the first group love to champion the Gospel’s sense of justice for those in the second until one realizes that it will cost the first group much in the way of how one lives, believes, and worships for this to actually happen. And yet, this is what Elijah, Isaiah, John, and yes, Jesus have been calling God’s people to for literally thousands of years.
The times are a changin’ because the prospect of Advent changes things.
This is what the prophets are encouraging us to see and warning us not to miss out on – namely that we are arriving at an ever-increasing awareness that the old way of living in the world must give way to a new and greater reality – one in which God reigns on earth as in heaven.
Advent changes everything. Money. Power. Sex. Everything.
This seems to be what Paul suggests as well. You may not have picked up on it at first. It is a peculiar passage, not one especially connected to Advent at first blush. But as I have suggested, Advent changes everything, even the way we read our sacred texts. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, Paul, while talking to the Christian community at Corinth, calls the church to participate in receiving God’s grace by giving graciously out of their own wealth.
There are poor in the world, and especially in the church it seems, and it is now the Corinthians’ moment to participate in God’s great gift by giving of their excess so that others lack nothing. Call it what you will, but Paul leaves little doubt as to what he hopes will be true for all Christians everywhere: A world where basic needs within (and eventually outside of) the church cease to exist.
While encouraging them through rather loaded rhetorical conventions, he then pulls his trump card, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Advent begins to change our outlook on wealth – to be rich is to become poor for the sake of others.
Let us, wherever we find ourselves, whether in the first or second group, take care to not miss out on the coming justice of God’s great gift. Let our hands not grow tired of joining with those, who for thousands of years, and especially those among us today, who have waited for God’s justice to come. Let us not allow our hearts, especially if we should find ourselves among those in the first group, to grow calloused and cold. If our hearts should chill, then let them be warmed by God’s coming fire that seeks out justice in the land, lest they should instead be consumed by God’s coming judgement.
And let us then take hold of and receive God’s grace in order that we may more freely give of what we have received. For remember, Advent changes everything. Everything.