A 'right side upping' Advent

Second Sunday of Advent

Love’s revelation

  • Malachi 3:1-4 “See I am sending my messenger to prepare the way…”
    Luke 1:68-79 Zechariah’s song
    Luke 3:16 John the Baptist’s message


Incarnate God, we come to this Advent worship because you come to us in your own Jesus. We come because you send messengers to bid us come. Awaken us and prepare us for your Coming Christ in whose name we pray. Amen

Asleep or Awake

There’s two kinds of people, there’s those who are asleep and those that are awake.”
That message comes from an unexpected messenger. While those words are not from the mouth of a biblical prophet, they sound a prophetic biblical note for our Advent ears.

The prophet elaborates,

“I’ve used my music to wake me up…”

 “And,” the singer continues,
“if it wakes other people up on the way that’s okay because we get used to the sound of the bomb going off in Belfast and to the roll call of bad news on television, we get used to the fact that that a third of the population on earth are starving. We get used to all these things and we eventually fall asleep in the comfort of our freedom”

Those words do come from the mouth of a prophetic musician, a contemporary singer song-writer with a surprising biblical message. They are an Advent reminder from none other than Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2. A remarkable new book called One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to those Seeking God connects Bono and U2’s songs to the prophetic biblical message (Christian Scharen, 57) .

Bono is an amazing prophetic voice crying out in the wilderness of an upside down world. It is a world of conflict they have seen from Central America to Africa, from Ireland to the United States and beyond. U2 albums such as War, Joshua Tree, Rattle and Hum are filled with prophetic words seeking to “right side up” an upside down world.

When we were in San Diego over Thanksgiving the local newspaper had an article about churches that are including more and more U2 songs in their worship. Perhaps our Folk Group could help us rock with U2 songs!

An inspiring Old Testament teacher of our day, Walter Brueggemann, “argues that the prophets were concerned with the most elemental social change – the change in how people viewed the world…Most of all they understood the distinctive power of language to speak in ways that evoke ‘a new thing.’ The prophetic task of evoking this ‘new thing’ is the work of judgment of the present order and hope in evoking an alternative order’ (Scharen, 59) .

Advent is so important for our awakening and preparation the Coming Christ because December has become a “nice” season of Christmas music that only incidentally welcomes a quiet cuddly baby Jesus. Not so. A real Advent is one prophetic biblical voice after another shocking us awake preparing us for the “right side upping” of an upside down world.

Last week on the first Sunday of Advent we heard a strong biblical word to “Be alert and keep awake” as Jeremiah and Jesus spoke words of judgment and hope.

On this Second Advent Sunday, two more prophets speak strong biblical words to us. Malachi and John startle us awake and evoke a new world into being. Their message is ‘right side upping’ an upside down world.

Malachi – God’s Prophet Messenger – Malachi 3:1-6

Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, is a minor prophet and a short book. It is 4 chapters and 4 pages that can be read in 15 minutes. Read Malachi this Advent week!

God’s people are accused of not loving God and even despising God’s name (1:2-7).

What a weariness this is,” and you sniff at me, says the Lord…(1:13).

God’s people are reminded that God made a covenant with them, “a covenant of life and well-being” (2:5). This covenant that has been broken by the people in what Malachi calls “covering one’s garment with violence” (2:16).

The people in turn accuse God of being absent and failing to uphold justice in an upside down world. They complain and question, “Where is the God of justice?” (2:17). So Malachi reminds the people of God’s plea and promise to “return to me and I will return to you” (3:7).

In that Judean context Malachi speaks God’s word to right the world by sending a messenger. Indeed, the name Malachi means “my messenger.”

Malachi 3:1-6…..

Malachi is a prophet in an upside down world evoking a new “right side upping” of the world. Malachi is speaking some years before Jesus’ birth.

In the Bible as we have it, Malachi being the last book of the Old Testament, we then enter into a long inter-testamental period of silence on the ancient Middle Eastern scene.

John the Baptist – God’s Prophet Messenger – Luke 3:1-6

Then a new prophet messenger John breaks the silence! John the Baptist becomes the fulfillment of Malachi’s message. John the Baptist is the prophetic messenger preparing the way of the Lord that Malachi proclaimed years earlier.

When writing this gospel, Luke is intent on providing a context for telling the gospel story of Jesus, the “right side upping” Savior who comes into the upside down world. In fact Luke gives two contexts. First the historical context is an extensive litany of political rulers beholden to empire — Roman Empire:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was
Governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee and his brother Philip ruler of
the region of Ituraea and Thrachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene…(3:1)

But Luke is not only giving us a picture of a political reign, he is making clear that this also takes place in the context of a religious rule (rules!). Luke elaborates further that this happens “during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas” (3:1-2).

Setting the political and religious context is important for Luke’s gospel. God’s message is for the real world. What happens once the stage is set?

The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah (3:2).

Where did it take place? Here is the second context of the gospel, a biblical context: “In the wilderness” This is the same wilderness where the children of Israel wondered for 40 years long ago to find the Promised Land. It is the wilderness where soon after this Jesus finds God after baptism to begin the life that John is preparing the way for. In this wilderness John is nurtured and receives God’s word to proclaims repentance and baptize hearers.

There is another side to the wilderness meaning. In addition to being the place where John and Jesus find God and hone their message, the wilderness is the place where Jesus is tempted by the evil one. It is also a place of chaos and danger and emptiness where demons roam. In other words, the wilderness “is a place of stark contrasts, a place where

God and evil are at home. It is from this marginal, liminal place that John begins his ministry of repentance for the forgiveness of sin” (Mary Schertz, AMBS lections).

John the Baptist’s prophetic message crashes into our “nice” Christmas world and turns the Christmas temple upside down. John is saying that Jesus is coming and truly “right side upping” the world.

Malachi and John’s Message for us this Advent

Thomas Merton spoke of Advent as “the beginning of the end of all that is not yet Christ” (Rose Marie Berger, “The Habit of Advent”, Sojourners , December 2006, p. 29)

The world saw a sign of this “right side upping” of an upside down world on Friday in London as Norman Kember, Harmeet Singh Sooden and James Loney made a statement at a press conference saying:

We three, members of a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation to Iraq, were kidnapped on November 26, 2005 and held for 118 days before being freed by British and American forces on March 23, 2006. Our friend and colleague, Tom Fox….was kidnapped with us and murdered on March 9, 2006. We are immensely sad that he is not sitting with us here today.

It was on this day a year ago that our captors threatened to execute us unless their demands were met. This ultimatum, unknown to us at the time, was a source of extreme distress for our families, friends and colleagues. The deadline was extended by two days to December 10, which is International Human Rights Day.

We understand a number of men alleged to be our captors have been apprehended, charged with kidnapping, and are facing trial in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. We have been asked by the police in our respective countries to testify in the trial. After much reflection upon our traditions, both Sikh and Christian, we are issuing this statement today.

We unconditionally forgive our captors for abducting and holding us. We have no desire to punish them……We bear no malice towards them and have no wish for retribution. Should those who have been charged with holding us hostage be brought to trial and convicted, we ask that they be granted all possible leniency.

To Guide our Feet — Zechariah’s Song

Advent prepares is to burst out with Zechariah’s glad song on our lips and hearts:

Blessed be the God of Israel
For God has looked favorably on God’s people and redeemed them.
God has raised up a mighty savior from the house of God’s servant David
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:68-79