The Fourth Sunday of Advent | David Dark
Sunday, December 23
Standing outside a Middle Tennessee Best Buy having braved the crowd to secure some items on a very well-publicized, Here-Comes-Christmas sale day, I watched a woman approach the entrance with a tired look of determination. “Gotta get in the spirit,” I heard her whisper to herself. I wished her well in my heart and wondered how she might respond if I was to ask her to name and specifically describe the spirit to which she referred. If it was indeed the spirit of Christmas she hoped to summon to her aid, how had it come to this? Would her beleaguered vision of the season be at all recognizable to its ancient sources? Might some within the Jesus movement view this particular spirit as alarmingly unclean?
In a manner befitting the mind-set of the weary and heavy-laden among us who feel as though we have shopped until we have dropped, our Advent reading very helpfully includes oft-repeated prayers for restoration and salvation (Psalm 80). And while we are exactly right to envision God’s affectionate purposes to include a deep compassion for us in the specifics of our distracted mind-sets, we are nevertheless directed to situate our visions of God’s deliverance squarely among the people who dwell on the less cheery end of the supply chain that occasions our everyday low prices. Ever attentive to the facts on the ground, Isaiah keeps it explicit: “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (29.19).
The goodness of this news, an inescapably social goodness not to be spiritualized or privatized away, can get to feeling very far away as we expend mental energies worrying over whether our phones have been recharged or the package will arrive on time. Mother Mary, lyrical reactionary, only makes things worse: “He has brought the powerful down from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly . . . and sent the rich empty away” (Luke 1.52-53).
How might we get on the right side of this gospel and not be among the self-justifying proud who find themselves hopelessly “scattered in the imagination of their hearts” (v. 51) by these tidings of comfort and joy? We might begin to do so by allowing ourselves to be made uncomfortable by the ways in which the coming kingdom made known in these texts crosses the lines we have drawn and questions the economies we sustain. May our spirits be enlivened and sobered by God’s good news.
Adjunct Professor, School of Religion
To download a digital copy of the 2012 Advent Guide, put out by Belmont’s School of Religion, click here.