The Prophetic Call of Advent

The work of liberation, evangelization and healing is in our hands

Advent brings opportunities for gentle reflection as we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth. Advent invites us to enter into deep stillness where we can ponder our relationship with the sacred Presence and come to realize how much we are loved despite our human weaknesses and waywardness. Advent beckons us to reclaim our baptismal charge to live and act prophetically in a world longing for healing, comfort and authentic leadership. Advent summons us to recommit ourselves to the ongoing work of evangelization and salvation. Finally, Advent reassures us that we live in the midst of enduring divine promise. All of these themes come together in Advent’s four Sunday readings from Isaiah and Second Samuel and the first reading for Epiphany.

In the reading from Isaiah for the First Sunday of Advent, the prophet speaks on behalf of his Judean community that has been released from Babylonian exile. Some people have returned to resettle in Israel, and they now have time to think about the state of their lives and their relationship with their God. They see how sin has caused distance between themselves and God. After they acknowledge their sinfulness, they plead with God to return to them. Aware of their special relationship with their God, they want their Potter to transform them.

The poet of this prophetic text calls us to deep self-reflection, to see and acknowledge our human failings, and to invite the Potter into our lives, knowing that the Potter can reshape and transform us and confident that the Potter will never throw away the clay but will constantly rework it into a design of sheer beauty. Our transformation into the image and likeness of the sacred Presence is ongoing, and we are the clay in the Potter’s hand.

The Isaian reading for the Second Sunday of Advent is set in the time of the Exile. Because of the Babylonian invasion and their own transgressions, God’s people have lost everything: their land, their temple, their holy city Jerusalem, and their monarchy. Survivors of the invasion have been exiled to Babylon and Egypt where they wait for a word from their God whom they think has abandoned them. Into the midst of their pain and loss enters the prophet who is divinely charged with the mission to offer the exiles a word of comfort and assurance that, indeed, their God is aware of their plight and remains reconciled to them even though they have broken covenant and not honored right relationship between themselves and their God. Important to note here is that God did not cause tragedy to befall the Israelites; they brought it upon themselves by the choices made by some of them and their leaders. The text’s theology reflects the ancient belief in the Deuteronomic theology of retribution (Deuteronomy 28).

The reading invites us to exercise our prophetic vocation and mission into which we have been baptized. To those exiled from their homelands or families because of war, famine, poverty, discrimination and injustice, we are called to offer comfort, to speak words of compassion, and to reassure them that, indeed, God sees their plight and will do something about it. God will act through the human community to relieve the suffering, the pain, the loss. Because prophets are called not only to speak God’s word but also to embody God’s presence, we have the responsibility to exercise strong leadership to help liberate people from their painful plights while gathering them close to our hearts. To those feeling exiled from God because of sin, we are called to exercise compassion, not condemnation. Compassion is at the heart of transformation and at the heart of God.

Our prophetic vocation and mission comes into full view in the Isaian reading for the Third Sunday of Advent. Like the ancient prophet of Isaiah, we too have been anointed by our God to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, and to announce a year of favor from God which is essentially a “jubilee year” where all debts, including sin, are canceled. Through us, the work of liberation and salvation continues which includes working with those individuals held captive and imprisoned by their own greed, their need for power and control, and whatever keeps them from acting justly and loving tenderly. Both the victim of injustice as well as the perpetrator need to be healed and set free. Wrapped in God’s mantle of justice, we have a responsibility to make justice spring up for all creation.

The reading from 2 Samuel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent calls us to leadership. As David’s descendants, we have the task of bringing about the reign of God, knowing that like David, we share in an intimate relationship with God. The Isaian reading for Epiphany deepens this call to leadership. Wedded to our God, we become light and are called to be light for all peoples so that they can return home to right relationship with their God and with one another.