Reinvent Advent: When God Gets Specific, I Gets Nervous

Press play and the read Isaiah 61:1-11. To read previous entries in this series click here and here

When God gets specific, I gets nervous.

At least, I get nervous when people living in the very same world I inhabit claim that God operates through hurricanes or floods or fires, punishing for sin people who have absolutely nothing to do with the sin being charged. Like, preachers proclaiming God’s abhorrence for homosexuality using 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina as evidence of God’s resulting wrath. I heard something similar about feminists, too. I won’t say who said it but y’all have the Google machine.

God supposedly unleashes devastation that incurs widespread suffering on thousands of people because of a gay pride parade in a mid-sized, Midwestern city. When these sort of preachers start talking about this outrageous stuff, I feel myriad emotions: anger, sadness, righteous indignation, superiority. I’m upset that they are presenting such a distorted and untheological vision of the God whom I serve. I feel sadness for the people in the path of the storm who are devout, and go to God wondering why God had to punish them for the sin of others. I feel righteous indignation because I know the Bible is used incorrectly to support this reckless theology, and I know that I can decimate in a conversation anyone who spews such drivel to congregants and believers. I feel superior because I don’t do that; I’m closer to God than that; I’m a better Christian than that.

It is that easy to become a Pharisee.

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Now, we need to check this word Pharisee because for too long it has been used as code for Jew. And I don’t mean a person who practices Judaism or identifies as Jewish. I mean that mythical Jew of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; the Jew who has horns or asks for a pound of flesh; the Jew featured in the sort of odious and dangerous claptrap that has haunted and harassed the Jewish people for millennia. That has become the vision of the Pharisee. But that is not who Jesus meant when he decried the Pharisees. He saw devout brothers in God who were reacting out of fear and for survival; the brief, violent period of the Hasmonean Dynasty had provided a couple generations’ worth of relative freedom before Rome came in and implemented one of the most brutal occupations in ancient history. The Pharisees were trying to survive and to help the people who had been alienated by the Temple and the priests. Pharisees believed that the Law would protect them. Along comes Jesus who appears to flout the Law completely, and they feel angry. Saddened. Righteously indignant. Superior.

Pharisees were good, well-meaning people who simply couldn’t imagine the sort of God Jesus was presenting. They misunderstood Jesus as much as we misunderstand them.

It’s just a glass case filled with emotion, ain’t it?

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I give these two examples to situate what we have in today’s passage from Isaiah 61, a text written during the time of the Babylonian Captivity, probably around the time our friend Cyrus the Persian, whom we spoke about a few weeks ago, was assisting to return from Babylonian captivity to Israel those few who wanted to return. It was the best of times it was the worst of times.

In today’s passage we have an example of God getting specific. And I think it is important to talk about how we feel about it.

Isaiah’s audience is people who have been through it. You know what I mean by through it? Like getting from a diagnosis to remission through it? House foreclosed upon through it. Job lost at middle age and pension bankruptcy kind of through it. And so had their parents. And grandparents. There is not a family around that has not been through it. And they have been told that they deserve their struggles because of the sins of those who came before them. People they never even met. Because of things they never did. I can feel the emotions rising up, can you?

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Isaiah’s message, then, of hope and change, fell upon eager ears. Frankly, it is also a good PR move for God because people get tired of waiting for liberation and redemption. As they should, especially if they are being punished for something that happened in the recesses of memory, the veracity of which is even questionable itself.

What was that sin again? What did they do wrong and what am I supposed to do about it?

“God has anointed me,” Isaiah says, “to bring good news to the oppressed. To bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoner. A Jubilee Year, I do declare.”

God is getting specific.

References to the poor as a group occur only three times in Isaiah and only once in the book of Amos; they appear over half a dozen times in the Psalms, but as a group they have a rather small amount of prophecy directed at them. The brokenhearted appear only twice, in Isaiah and in Psalms 34:19. The captives are mentioned the most often, in the Psalter, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Obadiah. But only here are all of these grouped together.*

Well, that is until Jesus struts into the synagogue, unrolls the scroll, reads the passage, and declares it fulfilled in the presence of all in attendance. All of the Pharisees in the room must have felt like I do when I hear the prophecies linking gays or feminists to natural disasters. Obviously, the content is different, but can you feel the emotions rising up?

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When God gets specific, I think it is good that we look first at the things that we don’t like before we do the things that make us feel better. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that God is in the business of healing and comfort, and that’s ultimately what this passage is about, and what we should be looking toward as joyous on the Third Sunday of Advent. But let us not put the wish before the lighting of the birthday candles.

The infinitive translated as “to bind” plays a double role in today’s passage: it means both to bind as one binds up a wound, and it means to unbind, in the sense of “unbinding blindness” that allows a person to see. Sometimes, as is the case here, a legal or political context applies and it is something closer to: “opening one’s eyes.” In other words, the prophecy is, I am going to allow you to see the reality of things so that you can act. I will always be with you, but there are expectations once you get woke, as the kids say.

In Biblespeak, this passage is filled with prophetic prolepses, or flash-forwards; signs abound to let us know that God’s work in Isaiah—and later in Jesus—is unusual. Also telling is the reference to the Jubilee Year, a practice that every 7×7+1 (50th) year is declared a jubilee by God. Slaves are emancipated. Debts are forgiven. Fields lay fallow. Everyone gets to hit a reset button, both personally and collectively. However, scholars are in nearly unanimous agreement that when both Isaiah and later Jesus proclaimed these jubilee years, they were not regularly scheduled programming. Both Isaiah and Jesus claim the authority to declare something that does not fit with the hierarchy’s understanding of how jubilee works.

Because with Jubilee years come excitement. Revelations. There will be dramatic exchanges: flowers, oil, and fresh garments for ashes, mourning, and sackcloth. The transformation is not just physical; it is also spiritual: those who return will be agents of righteousness. That means the Jubilee Year comes with responsibilities. Too often we forget that; look at what Isaiah is saying. “God is going to lead y’all back to the land and the Temple, and you will once again be a royal priesthood. Others will work the land, but for you there will be great rewards.” We like rewards. That’s why we learn to love Christmas as kids. A time when wishes can come true by just simply asking for something. We’re told it will happen if we are good, so we try real hard for a rather short period of time to be good, and then on Christmas morning we are rewarded! Wow, we think. Is this all it takes?

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Kinda sounds like how we treat God sometimes, huh? I swear I’ll be a better Christian if you just get me out of this. Or let that happen. I won’t do this or that again if you just take away this pain. I swear, I’ll be good.”

However, some of the people I know who love Christmas the most are ones who grew up in poverty or near poverty. I’ve heard stories of the unimagined for present ending up under the tree because mom worked extra shifts at the restaurant. The presents are great, but the memories that really last are those that feature us realizing how sacrificial love can change our lives. Rewards for some often mean great sacrifice by others.

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That’s important to remember in Advent. And it is important for us to pay attention to the pressures of those around us. Not everyone can work those extra shifts to earn money for that special present. With that can come shame or a sense for the parent that they have failed. (That’s why I am so appreciative of the Mission Committee and congregation of FPCYS for the Help a Family ministry.) Christ models for us the power of sacrificial and redemptive love. A love that has nothing to do with material things representing it. A love that comes to you and there is nothing you can do to deny it; no matter how much you feel unworthy or how stridently you fight against it, this love is not going anywhere. It is a love that can shock people. Like Pharisees. Like me. Like the preachers who cannot imagine that God could ever love gays or feminists. May this be a season in which we allow ourselves to be unbound. To see the radical, surprising, sometimes upsetting reality of God’s love.

But let us also understand the responsibilities we have once we have seen it. We know that we are to preach, heal, and proclaim just like Isaiah. Just like Jesus. And I don’t mean standing on the street corner with a placard, yelling at people; I mean that preaching St. Francis told us about: “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” The joy of today is that God’s love cannot be stopped; the price? Each of us, myself absolutely included, never forgetting that God loves those whom we dislike with a passion just as much as God loves us.

When God gets specific, I gets nervous.

*The vast majority of the scholarly claims made herein were inspired by the outstanding commentary offered by Dr. Stephen B. Reed on workingpreacher.org

 

 

Reinvent Advent: Joel and the Giant Penance

Read this: Joel 2:12-13, 28-29

The Christian year is only two weeks old and already we are being told to repent. To throw ourselves down as hopeless sinners. To admit to God how despoiled and besmirched we are, because only then will we have the chance for redemption and grace.

How’s that for a “Good morning to ya'”? No wonder people are avoiding church like nuts and gum. Together at last!

Growing up outside of the church, I certainly had a dim view of repentance talk. It conjures up images of a spider being held by God over the fires of hell. I didn’t understand why Christianity always seemed so preoccupied with the nature of sin. Now, years and many academic degrees later, I understand that much of that has to do with the interpretive voices that won out–Paul, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards–but there is certainly more to it than just citing sin. Only through the recognition of sin, says the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions, can we understand the power of grace. Only the darkest hour gives way to dawn.

The prophetic book of Joel is complicated. Frankly, that is an observation that can be made about any book in the Bible. The history of Joel is contested.  We also don’t know much about the prophetic figure himself, whose name means “YHWH is God.” Although I am not a Hebrew Bible scholar, I play one in this blog and I am swayed by the theory that Joel is written as a prophetic book that can be applicable to just about any situation; in other words, the work is intentionally vague in terms of establishing an historical context so that the prophetic words will be seen as relevant at all times. The Day of the Lord appears throughout the Hebrew bible–and is largely supplanted by the Parousia in Christian lore–but it represents a day in which truth will out. Good will overturn evil. Death will be no more; suffering will lose its say.

And, frankly, if you’re an evil person, you’re gonna have a bad time.

This sets up an interesting theological quandary. Are we good because we fear something?Are we good because we think we’ll get something? Or are we good for the sake of goodness.

You better be good for goodness sake, indeed. 

Joel calls for a spiritual change by conjuring up images of traditional Jewish repentance, that of renting (rending) clothes. Instead, though, he calls for a renting of the heart. This is reminiscent of what Paul will later write in Romans 2:29, when he calls not for a circumcised penis but rather a circumcised heart. Joel uses the breadth of repentance imagery to detail what seems to be required: fasting, weeping, mourning; all that is missing is ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων, the gnashing of teeth. Joel’s God wants the whole production, it seems.

Starting to feel like the spider again?

Since the book of Joel is designed to be applicable outside of a specific situation, something we cannot say for everything that appears in the Bible, let’s look at it in terms of Christians now. For us, living in the 21st century, most likely in the United States (I do not fool myself into thinking I have much of an international readership). We are at the start of a new year, and like every Christian year we are in Advent. It is a time of preparation. And unlike what marketers will have us think, it is a time not to prepare for Christmas Day. Not really. It is a time to prepare for the coming of God into the world.

Now, this is confusing or perhaps contradictory. If God is omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent, it means that God is always and has always been present, right? If God encompasses all, why would we need to prepare for a coming of God? The Christian answer is, as one might expect, both maddening and profoundly beautiful. We live a both/and existence. Of course, God is here. But each year at Advent, we prepare ourselves liturgically for the coming of Christ at Christmas, just as we prepare ourselves spiritually each day for the coming again of Christ, the Parousia. God is here and not yet.

I have written before about my trepidation regarding the Parousia or theology that is inherently eschatological or apocalyptic. I shan’t belabor that point by trodding upon already traversed ground, except to say that a religion focused on the next world to the exclusion of this one–or as a justification for expecting people to accept degradation here and now–does not work for me. It has done incredible damage to people of color, especially as used to mollify or even sanctify the effects of slavery. That doesn’t work for me, but that’s not to say that I don’t leave lots of room for positive eschatological soteriologies. or, to lose the jargon, for ideas about God’s goodness that link the end times to human salvation. I just don’t write those sorts of theologies.

However, Joel has a powerful word for us here on the Second Sunday of Advent. Joel is saying, “Slow your roll. You’re looking ahead to the coming of God, and yes it is exciting. But are you ready? Really ready?  You’re looking for the hope, joy, goodness, mercy, justice, compassion, radical love, and abundant blessings that come with God, says Joel. But have you thought about the ways in which you might have blocked these in the past year? Have you thought about the ways in which you might have interrupted the work of God in others? Reasonable people can disagree, but I think that the point is not to render ourselves slobbering, weepy messes who are filled with self-loathing and ugliness. I can’t really fathom a God such as that, frankly.

Yet what Joel is pitching I can catch. There’s a process to being able to enter more deeply into a relationship. For example, I had a wonderful, incredible dog named Guinness. She was my boon companion. My best friend. We were together for 14 years. She passed away on December 26, 2010. I still have a difficult time talking about her without crying. I have had opportunities to get other dogs, but I have refused. Why? Because I am afraid that I will expect a new dog to be Guinness. I will not accept and love the new creature for who she is, I’ll expect her to be Guinness. That’s not fair. That’s not a good relationship. It’s the same reason we are ill-advised to go from one serious romantic relationship to another without proper time, distance, reflection, and mourning.

Our lives are filled with deaths that we do not mourn properly. Sometimes those deaths are of our civility. Our goodness. Maybe not total deaths; maybe deaths of small aspects of our goodness or our civility. But deaths nonetheless that we really should recognize before we try to move forward. Joel reminds us that before we can expect an outpouring of Spirit; before we can even attempt to dream or have visions of goodness, we must repent. We must return to God. We must be honest about what we have done and have not done. I’ve been living that a lot for the past two weeks. There may be no crying in baseball, but there is repenting and mourning in Advent.

We can and should be critical of the Bible for sometimes presenting women as inferior to men; we should be critical of the Bible for seemingly approving of various forms of slavery (although I argue the “acceptance” does not apply to the form of race-based slavery that emerges from conquest of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, but that’s another post). In our criticism, though, we should also note that God’s promises cut across those lines, even when humans try to stop it. Everyone can repent. Everyone can return to God. Everyone can mourn the ways that they have failed to be all that we can be, and everyone can receive an equal outpouring of the Spirit. Everyone can have prophetic vision and dream impossible dreams.

We are at a crucial time in our nation’s history. Trite, but true. I’m willing to hold some major, major differences with people in holy tension as long as we can agree that we can’t let some deaths occur. We can’t let women fear that they will be grabbed by any parts of their body, or that Muslim women should be grabbed by the hijab. We can’t allow a legal system that does not protect everyone equally, and we cannot accept the feeble excuses or justifications for why it is not so. Friends, I speak loudly and with passion but that doesn’t mean that I expect others to agree with me. I, frankly, enjoy hearing contrary opinions as long as we are agreed that all of us have repenting to do. All of us have ways that we have failed. All of us have reflecting and considerations that we must do in order to move forward.

Advent is a time in which we can reinvent ourselves. Not inauthentically, but in the image of God. We’ll be given new eyes and new ears, and by the time we wear those down and risk becoming deaf and blind, God will be once again on the way (while also by our side). Weird, I know. But I am grateful for weird. Weird I can do. I speak fluent weird. For a weird God, let the people of the Church say…

 

 

Reinvent Advent: God’s Edict

At First Presbyterian, we are having a Bob Dylan Advent, in which a Dylan song and its themes will be featured in worship. This is the selection for the First Sunday. 

Too many Christians misunderstand Advent. It has morphed into preparation for Christmas, like so many sale of the season events. It is capitalistic penultima, Advent is; the sitting on Santa’s lap of religious seasons. My Christian Socialism shows most during Advent. I lose Facebook friends because I decry the rank hypocrisy of White, Evangelical Protestant, American Christianity turning a Middle Eastern Jewish communalist with a penchant for radical insurrection into a blonde-haired Aryan with a rifle in one hand and the GOP Platform in the other. A message of financial rebellion and dedication to higher pursuits has been replaced by teaching kids that you know Jesus loves you more because Santa brought you an iPad while the kid in the ghetto gets a bullet through the window. I see American Christmas as being a skosh more classist than it is racist, but that’s a race won by a hair not a hectare.

The first Sunday in Advent is very special to me. I begin my assignment at First Presbyterian on the First Sunday of Advent, 2013. If I were a president, I would be entering the final year of my first term. A lot has changed since the early years of my Administration, if we are going to extend the metaphor; while it is Year A once more, I have given up the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) in favor of the Narrative Lectionary (NL), for reasons I’ve written about previously. For those who are not familiar with the patterns of preaching life, this would be the first year I could actually go back and mine previous sermons and notes to make sermon writing a bit easier; most preachers I know rarely, if ever repeat sermons from the previous cycle. It has been three years since said sermons were written, and one would hope that the preacher ain’t the same, because the congregation sure isn’t. But I know that as I have gotten deeper into my preaching career I have looked at previous sermons I wrote when I was not preaching regularly; sometimes it would hapen by accident: I would go to save a document and realize that I had a sermon from when I was an intern. Generally I just laugh at those, but sometimes there is good historical material contained therein.

But by going to the Narrative Lectionary for Year A, I am committing myself to fresh starts for each sermon. If I were really smart, I’d have all my files tagged and cross referenced so I can call up themes and scripture passages, but all I to say is

Yet, Advent is Advent is Advent. It is the start of a new year. A reset. A fresh set of downs. So earlier this week I opened up my Narrative Lectionary, put on my pince-nez, and ran my finger until I saw it: Daniel 6:6-27.*

I was like, “Daaaaaaaamn, NL. You’re bringing the heat with the First Sunday of Advent.”

The Book of Daniel is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misused texts in all of the Tanakh.** For the duration of my academic training, I was assigned material that situated the Book of Daniel as a text aimed at Antioch IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid leader whose edicts inspire the Maccabean Revolt and led to the Hasmonean Dynasty, but by utilizing language explicitly mentioning a different period of Jewish history. We were taught that the Daniel is an apocalyptic text employing coded language by setting a contemporary manifesto into a story world of the Babylonian Captivity. For nearly a decade, I have taught the history of this period with the assumption that the edict of Cyrus that allows the people to return (and results in Cyrus being called the Christ in Isaiah) was regarded as almost universally positive by the Jews; Persian occupation has been treated by scholars as a largely benign period, until recent exegetes like Smith-Christopher have been challenging these assumptions. While too much to summarize here, I strongly recommend reading his “Daniel: Introduction” in the New Interpreter’s Bibleas it has been enough to convince me that I need to rethink my entire hermeneutic of Daniel. Half of it is written in Aramaic; the other half in Greek. It does not seem to come from a unified time period; it containes clashing theologies. An already complicated text that I thought I had bedded down to be able to teach and preach on has once again become almost unknown to me.

Thanks, NL. Thanks a lot.

The historical setting is key; the framers of the NL have us skipping the opening half-dozen verses of Daniel 6, but such is unwise. They provide us important clues: Daniel is depicted as a one of three presidents overseeing 120 sartraps. Extant historical literature cannot confirm this number, but the political system did exist during the time of the Return; the Book of Daniel itself gives no information as to how Daniel, a Hebrew, was able to secure his position; scholars point out that an edict mandating that all worship none but Darius is not attested to in any extant source, and most historians find its plausibility nil, given the likelihood of the Persian leaders being Zoroastrians. It seems clear that what we have in Daniel is folklore; the question then remains, folklore of what folk and what lore?

To find out what we don’t know, let us look at what we know.

The Aramaic word translated as decree or edict, according to scholars, would have the same cultural understanding as “papers” or “orders.” As in, “Show me your papers, or I have orders to take you in.” In our story world, Darius issues an order that never really happened, but the folkloric detail is setting up a larger issue: Living in a condition of near-slavery is still living in slavery. There are still edicts that come from Man, not God that are life-crushing. Limiting. Oppressive. What scholars once thought was coded language regarding how to live under the brutal slavery of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the tyrannical leader of the Seleucids who sought to eliminate the Maccabees), may actually be not-so-coded language to occupied Jews about how to not accept the half-slavery of the Persians. If that is true, the Book of Daniel is not some oblique, surreptitious wink written to contemporaries by those opposing Seleucid oppression, but rather evidence of nonviolent resistance during the time of Persian rule written about during the time of the Persian rule.

This seems to be what is indicated in Daniel 6:10-11, in which Daniel flings open his window*** and continues his practice of thrice daily prayer. Historically, this was not a practice required of Jews and seems to have existed only for a brief time amongst Hellenized Jewish communities, that is, communities impacted by Greek culture, such as those now under Persian rule. Again, scholars are divided but we’ll go with the assumption that this is correct. Either way, Daniel is not being targeted because of a practice widespread among Jews, but rather because of one utilized in specific communities. Regardless, his act of prayer is political and defiant.

Darius, when pushed by the other presidents, seems reluctant to seek Daniel’s arrest; Christians will hear echoes of Pilate, but like Pilate, Darius’ true character is more complicated than that attested to in a few lines of scripture. The whole of the Book of Daniel paints a sinister and violent view of the Persians (as well as the Babylonians and Greeks). The message seems clear: resistance is required, no matter how benevolent the foreign rule.

Daniel in the lion’s den is a potent symbol, and has found its way into popular imagination and lore for generations. However, it seems that we might have misunderstood it all along. We tend to think of Daniel being imprisoned, but such punishment was not utilized much, if at all in the ancient world. People may be held for periods of time, but there is no record showing that imprisonment as we use it today was employed in any significant sense. Scholars emphasize the use of the word “pit,” which most often is associated with the underworld or with a condition of being contained. Here, it seems, that Daniel is meant to represent the exiled people themselves. We should notice that the pit is sealed with a stone and the king’s insignia–much like Matthew will describe Christ’s tomb after the crucifixion–but let us not project Jesus onto a text in which he does not appear, lest we miss the symbolism. The people are sealed in a pit by a foreign State power, thrown in with lions that wish to savage them. Yet as a result of innocence and upright character, Daniel–Jewish people living in exile or under occupation–emerge unharmed.

In the story, Darius is very much a sympathetic figure; he fasts, he abstains from pleasures, he feels himself connected to the fate of Daniel. In the morning he runs to the pit and is overjoyed to see Daniel alive; those who plotted against the hero are punished to their deaths, and God is glorified even by the king who was to be worshipped as a god. All’s well that ends well, right?

Except it doesn’t end well. It rarely does. The Darius of the story is not an historical figure; he is depicted as living from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king that destroys Jerusalem in 587/6 BCE, until the time of Cyrus the Persian, something virtually impossible (and if it occurred, where is the extant record?). And this period was not benevolent for the Jews. Why, then, have scholars seemingly been so wrong? In short, because we have believed ancient political propaganda and did not listen to the testimonies of the people. Sure, the theology of the piece is pretty easy: God is good; those that stand against God will ultimately get theirs. But people don’t believe in God because they are stupid; people know that if you are thrown into a pit with lions, chances are you are going to be eaten.

So we must ask: what does it mean to be eaten?

There is not a single or easy answer to this question, and I think too often preachers act as though there is; yes, we can certainly say that there will be edicts that attempt to keep us from worshipping God and if we follow them, we will be eaten by lions. That, in my opinion, is the “persecuted White, American Christian” answer and I am sick of those answers. I think others are as well. Certainly, the story is about how to live in a world hostile to you, but it is not a missive about religious freedom. This is not a tract from the American Enterprise Institute. This is a subversive story aimed at persecuted people; it is a resistance narrative. It is a letter from a Birmingham jail; it is a call to nonviolent resistance. It is a text that says a stronger weapon than the sword is the faithful heart. One quarter slave on your mother’s side is still a slave, and God wants us free, the text says. If you aren’t free, act like you are; refuse to let them enslave that which makes you, you. Here, in the story world, that is devotion to God. That is praying with the window flung open.

We face the same thing in our lives, friends. Sadly, too many Christians see themselves as Daniel and don’t realize that they are Darius, or one of the co-presidents trying to bring Daniel down. I believe strongly that if the Church is to survive the next 100 years, it needs to understand the Book of Daniel as a resistant text. As we start our Advent, we start with the theme of hope. But we also know that these are changing times. We have government leaders who are trying to get us to be grateful because we are “mostly free.” Or that things won’t be as bad for us as it is for them provided we follow the edicts. if we just fulfill the decree, it’ll be okay. Not great, but okay.

Welcome to the new edict: The issue is not praying three times a day with the windows open, it is praying five times a day anywhere.

This Advent, what are we as a Church going to do to extend hope to those who need it the most? While the times may be a’changin’, God’s requirements of God’s people are not. have not.

This Advent, what are we as a Church going to do to extend hope to those who need it the most?

*Actually, none of that happened. The NL is online, I try not to touch the screen of my iMac, and on a round face like mine pince-nez look like glasses that had the stems fat-blasted off them.

**I’m not an expert, I just play one on this blog, so I want to recommend Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third WorldDanieland literally anything by Daniel L. Smith-Christopher.

***The Aramaic text uses the passive voice; the Greek, Ethiopic, and Latin all use active, which I privilege because it fits into my sermon and this is my blog, dang it.