For the second week of Advent, our focus is on waiting with hope and abiding with peace in our hearts and our actions.
We long for leaders of greatness and grace because we ache for a world with greater justice and shalom. The first two reflections in this series probed these elements of our human condition. Underneath these aching longings throbs a deep desire for God and the realm of God, for someone with the power and goodness to save us from ourselves and make our world right.
The short season of Advent invites us to intensify this deep desire and at the same time practice a patient, hopeful waiting. Not a resigned and passive posture, but a gritty, active waiting for signs of the shalom that Jesus described in such deceptively modest terms as tiny seeds and grains of salt and candlelight and pinches of yeast.
The lectionary texts for this second week of Advent offer suggestions for our work of waiting.
Isaiah 40 and Mark 1 speak of “a voice crying in the wilderness,” (an apt metaphor for our historical moment?) calling for people to “prepare the way of the Lord.” The idea here is something like a road crew that builds a highway: mapping out the most direct route, clearing the trees and obstacles, leveling the roadbed, and eventually putting up the road signs. Then a motorcade bearing important persons can travel easily to its destination—as was the case in my state of Georgia two weeks ago when the body of Rosalyn Carter’s was driven from Plains to Atlanta to lie in repose and be honored before returning to Plains for a quiet burial on the Carter homestead.
In biblical times, heralds mobilized workers to prepare the routes for rulers to come to various cities. We cite these texts in Advent as admonitions for us to pave pathways by which God can more readily come into our own spheres of life. Preparation is part of our waiting.
How? John the Baptist, who served as the herald for Jesus’ coming into public view, prescribes a repentance that bears moral fruit—to counter greed, practice generosity; to avoid exploitation, practice integrity; to not abuse power, practice contentment—and offered baptism that signified a cleansing grace.[i] In this holiday season with its own distinctive temptations and emotional pitfalls, what is one practice that we might choose so as to keep the entrance of our hearts more open to God?
Psalm 85 offers us a different image for the beauty of God’s presence in the world and in our lives:
Love and fidelity embrace
peace and justice kiss.
Fidelity sprouts from the earth,
justice leans down from heaven.[ii]
I don’t know exactly what I can do about the ravages in the Middle East and Ukraine or the political machinations in my own country, but I can look for every opportunity to embody love and fidelity in my home and with my neighbors, to speak peace and act justly in my interactions at work and in public spaces. Such small actions, as we wait for the ultimate reconciliation of earth and heaven, anticipate that coming shalom and partially instantiate it here and now. Father, your kingdom come. Pause now to think of at least one person toward whom you can offer a seed of shalom this week.
Finally, the epistle reading from 2 Peter 3:8-15 speaks of the Lord’s “patience,” suggesting that it is God’s love that underlies the now centuries-long “delay” in the coming of the “day of the Lord,” the time of his return to conclude human history. By implication, patience is also invited of us: “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace.”
Advent reminds us of God’s freely given and unwavering love for us. For God so loved the world he gave his only Son. We don’t shut our eyes to the darkness, depravity, and despair of this world, rather we open them more widely to the light, goodness, and hope promised by God in word and deed. Indeed, in Word made flesh.
I like the honest juxtaposition of “strive” and “peace.” It is not easy to rest in God’s peace when so much roils our personal lives and our social environments. I encourage you this week to protect moments to be still and prayerfully attentive to God. Listen to the words of his scriptures or the whisper of his Spirit. Such watchful moments will help us to abide in the gift of his peace. We wait in peacefulness.
The psalmist says, “I listen to God speaking,” and hears:
I, the Lord, speak peace,
peace to my faithful people
who turn their hearts to me[iii]
[i] Drawing also from Luke’s account of John the Baptist in Luke 3
[ii] Psalm 85:11-12, The English Translation of the Liturgical Psalter (Liturgy Training Publications, 1994)
[iii] Psalm 85:9, Liturgical Psalter
Previous posts in this series:
Longing: Greatness and Grace in our Leaders (for Christ the King Sunday)
About the author:
Bobby Gross is the author of Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God (InterVarsity Press). Bobby has spent his career in campus ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He currently serves as Senior Field Director for the Graduate & Faculty Ministries division. For 13 years he served as VP and National Director for Graduate & Faculty Ministries. Originally from Columbus, GA, Bobby and his wife Charlene have lived in Miami (FL), New York City, and now Atlanta. He graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a B.A. in American Studies and English Literature and did additional studies in theology at Regent College in Vancouver. Bobby served on the national board of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) for six years. An admitted bibliophile, Bobby also writes poetry and collects contemporary art on religious themes.