Second Sunday of Advent C – What Are We Waiting For?
I like to think of Advent as a time when we are waiting to see what what will happen next. After the Lord’s Prayer during every Mass we hear these words. “As we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” What exactly is it that we are waiting for?
We believe that what we call the “second coming” of Christ will be a time when the familiar prophecy of Isaiah becomes a reality. Valleys shall be filled, mountains shall be made low, winding and rough roads will be made straight and smooth. For us, we hope, it would mean an end to terrorism, hunger, global warming and all other injustices.
Another term for the “second coming of Christ” is “parousia.” In Greek the word means “being present.” It is not about waiting for something but recognizing what is happening now and engaging with it. Mary the Mother of Jesus was filled with hope in this regard. God will cast down the mighty from their thrones, lift up lowly persons and fill hungry people with good things. God will not forget to be merciful.
In another translation of Mary’s Song Bishop John Spong used these words. The light of the holy one is within me. This gift is not for the proud for they have no room for it. The strong and self-sufficient ones do not have this awareness [of the light that shines within them].
Jesus, according to biblical scholar Karen King, taught that people sin because they do not recognize their own spiritual nature  — the light of Christ within them. Paul reminded the Philippians that they were blessed with knowledge and perception. How long will you and I wait before we affirm that we are holy people made as the image of God?
Tonight our Jewish friends begin the celebration of Chanukah a festival of lights celebrating national liberation. The story began about 170 years before Jesus was born. Jerusalem was ruled by Greek imperialism. King Antiochus IV tried to force the Jews to reject their religion but they revolted. After a three year war the Jews regained and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem. The word “Chanukah” means “dedication.”
Jesus would have celebrated Chanukah (John 10:22). He would have remembered how his ancestors opposed ruthless dictators. He would have identified with the arduous and fatal journeys of the Israelites. Perhaps also he would have thought of the Baruch text we heard earlier, “God is leading Israel in joy by the light of God’s glory, with mercy and justice for company.”
In the gospel of Luke the author references the civic and religious leaders in office at the time of Jesus’ birth. He did so to situate the important role Jesus played into the history of humanity. To set the stage for Jesus, John the baptizer advertised a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
That Jesus was born to redeem us from our sins, to suffer and die so that we might live forever, is a standard Christian doctrine. New Testament scholar Hal Taussig, however, provides a slightly different interpretation of this teaching. He suggests that redemption has much more to do with our role in bringing reconciliation, peace and justice into the world.
This notion changes things. Instead of emphasizing that Jesus came to save us from this mess, Taussig proposes that we focus on another facet of his incarnation. Jesus came to show us how to live, how to be human, how to love, how to show mercy to one another.  When this happens we will experience the redemptive actions that Jesus carried out.
Next week Pope Francis will open a symbolic door in Rome to begin a Jubilee Year of Mercy. What does it ask of us? Taking the first step in acts of forgiving when it hurts to do so, letting go of small annoyances without mentioning them, seeing another’s need and responding without waiting to be asked. Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote that Chanukah and Christmas are times to return to hope. “No one is permanently stuck in cynicism and despair …. We have the capacity to choose a new path.”
In her homily last week Betsy Rowe-Manning challenged us to spend these Advent Days “becoming the birthing place of God among us!” If we do that much, and in our own ordinary ways, maybe we will not have to wait so long for peace and justice to become realities. So. What are we waiting for?
- King, Karen. The Gospel of Mary Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Disciple. (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2003) 4
- Taussig, Hal. “The Gospel of Luke.” In the Got Sermon? Lectures. Union Theological Seminary, New York. November 12, 2015. From my class notes.