Advent 3: A Time for Courage
Lectionary Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
Advent Calendar (Cycle C) and guidance for using the lectionary
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis the Pevenzie children undertake a harrowing sail into darkness –“smooth, solid blackness.” The hungering dark sapped hope, flooding hearts with fear. There was no future, no escape only the haunting dark. But as hope drained into despair there came a sign—an albatross. “It circled three times round the mast… and called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words; though no one understood them… except Lucy. Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, ‘Courage dear heart,’ and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.”
Each year at the darkest time of the year Advent comes reminding us that ancient promises and enigmatic prophecies really do come true. God’s timing may challenge our credulity – we may have to wait. But “take courage dear heart”: the darkness Adam and Eve’s sin dragged into this world will be undone.
It may take time. Dark centuries may come and go. Lives may be riddled with terrorism and violence. But prophets like Isaiah and Zephaniah keep reminding God’s people that though warfare, financial downturns, disappointments, loss, and oppression seem to be our reality, “the Lord your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory” over all these things. Watch and wait for the Advent.
Advent Past, Present, and Future
From our vantage point in history we know the prophecies did come true. In the fullness of time, in a small backwater town occupied by hostile Roman forces the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace was pushed through the birth canal of Mary. It was the Advent of God with us – Emmanuel. God with skin on.
But the Advent of Emmanuel isn’t the only Advent. Zephaniah paints an astonishing picture of another future and another Advent. “Sing O daughter of Zion… Be glad and rejoice with all your heart…. The Lord, the King of Israel is with you; never again will you fear any harm…. The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” (3. 14-17)
Really? There is a time coming when we “fear no harm?” A day when God is actually rejoicing over us with singing? It sounds about as likely as being struck by lightning – unless you look back and remember the baby in the manger.
The Practice of Remembering
Remembering is such a central part of our faith journey that God reminds us scores of times to remember. And the Holy Spirit uses memory to help God’s redemption story come alive to us. We are to remember God’s track record so that in the darkness we can hope.
How we remember what God has done opens us up or closes us down to the “impossible.” Zephaniah’s words about the advent of a New Jerusalem can seem unlikely – but the impossible has happened before. This gives us reason to hope and trust that a new world order, where God’s delight in us is as palpable as the air we breathe, is on the way to us. It is coming even now.
So how are you remembering that God’s plan is bigger than any darkness you face? How is the memory of God’s goodness and delight in you providing healing passage into the future? Moses taught Israel to sing songs that helped them remember. They sang of how the angel of death passed right over them and how they had experienced God as a warrior in their midst. Their Exodus Song resounds with the personal pronouns. “I will sing unto the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously. The horse and rider thrown into the sea.” The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God and I will exalt him. (Exodus 15. 1-2) Through songs of remembrance, Israel remembered how God came to their rescue in the darkness of slavery. And they sang with delight.
And it’s not just God’s people who sing to him. God sings over us with delight as well. Advent is a season where we remember the sacred duet between God and his people – the duet of delight. Remembering God’s story in your life is the antidote to dark memories that metastasize like cancer. God’s story is a bigger, sweeter story than any story ever told. And we are part of it. Remember.
As you make out shopping lists and are drawn into the season of busy cheer, name the many ways in which God’s goodness is evident in your life. Retell your story of God to those you love. Recount God’s presence with you. Let your life be shaped, not by darkness, but by the Great Delight.
Fruits Worthy of Repentance
But remembering and savoring God’s goodness to us personally is not enough. In this week’s Gospel, John the Baptist calls us to kingdom living in the present even as we remember God’s gifts to us in the past. Through practices of repentance, fairness, integrity, generosity, and contentment we prepare the way for Christ’s Second Advent—his future coming in glory—even as we find ways to open to the reality of the kingdom of God among us now. This requires its own kind of courage. While we wait for the fullest expression of Christ’s kingdom at a later time, we can be those who ease Christ’s coming into our world now through concrete action in our personal lives, our neighborhoods and communities.
The practice of remembering God’s bigger story changes everything about our own inner orientation. The practice of living in ways consistent with the values of God’s kingdom makes us all prophets who prepare the way of the Lord, not just through our words and prayers but through our actions.
And all the while we live in the truth that the Lord our God is with us. He is mighty to save. He is taking great delight in us. He is quieting us with his love. He is rejoicing over us with singing.
Lord of Light, help us remember that you come.
You come singing over us.
You come laughing and crying over us.
You come day after day, hour after hour, year after year.
Help us not forget that you came. You come. You are coming.
Day after day, hour after hour and year after year.
During this Advent season hone our minds to redemption’s story.
In the darkness of this world open our eyes to Your light.
In the wee hours of this year, crowd our memory with gratitude.
Let us number Your goodnesses, Emmanuel, even as we number our days.
In the name of the God who comes; Father, Son and Spirit.
©Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, 2012.
Rev. Adele Calhoun is co-pastor (with her husband, Doug) of Redeemer Community Church in the Boston area. A trained spiritual director and former missionary, Adele was a founding board member of the Transforming Center and is a faithful teacher among us. She is the author of two Transforming Resources—The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook and Invitations from God (both InterVarsity Press.)
What action is God inviting you to take this Advent as you remember that God’s plan is bigger than any darkness you face in leadership?
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