We are reflecting together in this brief, intense Advent season on the poignant Advent Sunday Collects. So constitutive, so incisive, so formative for our spiritual (and not so spiritual for that matter) walk though Advent. The Collects waste no time in their laconic cross-examination and lacing indictment of the human condition, and never must we. Here is the Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent:
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Such a motional, volative prayer chock full of freighted verbs…sent, preach, prepare, give, heed, forsake, greet, lives, reigns. While we await the fulfilling of the Lord’s promises, evidently we have some serious internal homework to complete! Now is a good time! Let’s break down who’s doing what where and how. God’s job: Sending the right messenger with the customized message to the correct recipient! The nouns, verbs and adjectives which comprise the Hebrew and Greek terms for prophet appear a gobsmacking 660 times in Holy Scripture. 660! The Hebrew root literally translates “Seer,” “One with Divine Vision.” The Greek root literally translates “One who Speaks Forth” or perhaps “Speaks in Front” is more precise. The prophets see God’s reality and then seek to surgically cauterize any human condition which falls short of God’s world God’s way. The prophets not only speak God’s Good News above and against all the false vocabularies we are taught by the world, but also interpret God’s divine vocabulary to an obstinate world unwilling to learn it. Advent seems to be the “fast quarter class” (Colorado College anyone?!) in salvation, the goal and ultimate purpose of the Good News. The Prophetic tradition saturates scripture so pervasively we can hardly read a page without it, and our NT prophetic par excellence is of course John the Baptizer. So, John, Elijah, Isaiah and every other biblical or contemporary prophet preaches repentance (the difference between our lives now and our lives completely surrendered and aligned with God) and preparation. Get ready they thunder, beg and cajole! Ready for Jesus!
Our job, dear readers?! To receive the grace given to us here and now. Have the courage and fortitude to forsake (abandon, prune/hack off, throw out the window, cancel the website, clean out the liquor cabinet, etc.) our sins to truly prepare to greet the coming Lord with greatest joy. It sounds so easy, so logical, so wonderful and yet why is it so darn difficult to enact?! And Jesus comes, not as judge nor jury, not as therapist nor tyrant. No, Jesus is coming to us as Redeemer, one who trades His life to give our life eternal value. The prophets spoke truth to power. Jesus is living Truth and God’s Power.
- Who speaks prophetically into your life, one who fulfills the several core functions of a prophet we explored above? Who sees for you? Who speaks forth or frontally for you? Who interprets God’s message of salvation in your life? Who calls you to radical repentance?
- To whom do you function prophetically in return? To whom do you speak with God’s words, God’s vocabulary, God’s highest and best purpose above every other clamoring voice? To whom are you called?
- What one obstacle, one weight which clings to our souls, one moment or one wound could we forsake to authentically enter this Christmastide with greatest joy?! Hint: Look for the one thing hardest to give up that we know both comforts and haunts us!! That’s it!!