An Advent-Shaped Faith

An advent candle burns in the wreath. Image courtesy 3523studio/

An advent candle burns in the wreath. Image courtesy 3523studio/

The high liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent have always held a special place in my heart because of their emphasis on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But Advent has special significance because it, unlike any other season, most accurately expresses the now-not-yet feeling of the Kingdom of God. It highlights the fact that we are waiting. We’re waiting for the return of God, for the day when God will come and restore all things.  

Many of our Advent hymns capture this beautifully, especially “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Before the birth of Christ, God’s people lived in a time of waiting. The space between the Old and New Testaments, between Malachi and Matthew, cover a span of more than 400 years. That was 400 years without a word from God, without a prophet. It was 400 years of one invasion after another as one conqueror overtook another. And the people began to wonder, “When will YHWH come? When will God send the Promised One?”

And then, announced by shepherds and angels, and greeted by Magi from the East, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The Promised One had come! The Kingdom of God was at hand! But not quite. He lived, he died, he rose again … but we’re still waiting. We live between the two great Christ events of history, between his first coming and his second. We live in the in-between time as we await the return of the King and the day when God will come again to dwell with God’s people, to wipe away every tear, and to finally and for all eternity make everything new (Rev. 21).

To the Millennia and Beyond!

I CONFESS THAT I DO NOT often use the Revised Common Lectionary. As a Bible professor, I prefer to read texts in their larger literary and historical contexts. When a brief reading from one time period is lifted out of its context and juxtaposed with another written many centuries later, it can feel like an invisible hand is forcing me to compare apples and oranges—or even apples and mushrooms.

Nevertheless, I have been enriched by this year’s readings for Advent and Christmas. My “larger historical context” has become the sweep of a thousand years of Israelite history, from King David to the birth of the “son of David.”

For Christians, the coming of Jesus was a singularity. Though we focus on his birth in this season, that lower-class event was barely noticed at the time, and it is not mentioned by two of our gospel writers. It is his entire life, ministry, death, and resurrection that echoes throughout the ages and ushers in our hope of salvation. Our prophets and psalmists from the Hebrew Bible could not foresee details of the Christ-event from their perspectives centuries earlier. Yet their intuitions and hints and poetic expressions of joy over God’s in-breaking from their times are now borrowed to give voice to our exultation over Jesus’ coming today.

In a culture measured by quarterly profits and immediate gratification by credit card, we need a longer view to better understand what God is doing throughout human history. These Advent readings call us beyond the present to the millennia of the past and the hope of the future stretching to eternity.

Reta Halteman Finger, co-author of Creating a Scene in Corinth: A Simulation, taught Bible at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and writes a Bible study blog at

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Season of Disruption

WHEN JOHANNES BRAHMS first played his German Requiem in Vienna in 1867, the audience was shocked. In fact, scholars report that some “hissed and booed and behaved quite boorishly.”

This October, when the St. Louis Symphony performed the same piece along with German composer Detlev Glanert’s arrangement of Brahms’ Four Preludes and Serious Songs, it elicited a similar response.

Not to the work itself, but to what occurred during intermission.

As conductor Markus Stenz took the stage, two audience members began to sing. In strong, clear voices, they performed Florence Patton Reece’s famous justice hymn: “Which side are you on, friend? Which side are you on?” Nearly a dozen more scattered throughout Powell Hall joined in. While the audience watched in stunned silence, a banner unfurled from the balcony with a silhouette of a man’s face. It said: Requiem for Mike Brown 1996-2014.

As in Vienna, there were some boos from the audience and a few expletives—more disruption following the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, by white police officer Darren Wilson. While the Vienna audience complained that Brahms’ music was too religious for a secular setting, one St. Louis symphony-goer asked, “Is Powell Hall a proper venue for a protest?” And a Catholic priest challenged: “Instead of chanting ‘Which side are you on?’ further dividing the community, try singing ‘How can we heal?’”

“A concert hall is a public place, and public protest is possible there,” composer Glanert told Sojourners. “Perhaps [Brahms] would have quoted the Bible: ‘Whoever hates his brother is a murderer ... no murderer has eternal life within him.’”

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The Seven Best Articles You'll Regret Missing from 2013

From Ryan Herring's post "God of Rap"

Rapper Kanye West and “white Jesus” on stage at his Seattle concert. Photo: Via Twitter/ @DailyLoud (

It’s the end of the year and, as always, a great time to reflect on what has happened over the past 12 months. I’ve been blessed to have so many talented and diverse writers share their voices and views alongside me on the God’s Politics blog. I want to take this opportunity to share some of my favorite posts from this past year with you, in no particular order.


We had so many great posts this year that explored the different facets of our faith. If you haven’t read them yet, make sure you look at:

What Good is a Ph.D. for reading the Bible? by Rev. Dr. Guy Nave

Five Things That Are Holding Christianity Back by Christian Piatt

10 reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained For Ministry by Eugene Cho

Women and Girls

Since the 1970s, Sojourners has been committed to resisting sexism in all its forms, while affirming the integrity and equality of women and men in the church and in the larger world. This year we’ve been even more intentional about looking at these topics through our blog and magazine. 

Pope Francis: An Imitation of Christ

Pope Francis greets the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo: Paul Haring/Catholic News Service. Via RNS.

Pope Francis is TIME's Person of the Year. But that is only because Jesus is his "Person of the Day" — every day. 

Praises of the pope are flowing around the world, commentary on the pontiff leads all the news shows, and even late night television comedians are paying humorous homage. But a few of the journalists covering the pope are getting it right: Francis is just doing his job. The pope is meant to be a follower of Christ — the Vicar of Christ.

Isn’t it extraordinary how simply following Jesus can attract so much attention when you are the pope? Every day, millions of other faithful followers of Christ do the same thing. They often don’t attract attention, but they keep the world together.

Remembering Our True Source of Joy


There are some who will spend this Christmas in prison due to unfair drug sentencing laws. BortN66/Shutterstock

As we prepare for the coming of Christ, the third Sunday of advent is celebrated in joy. As followers of Christ, it is reasonable to be exuberant about the birth of our Savior. The amount of happiness that can seep from the soul in response to a virgin birth, a perfect baby boy, and an adorable scene of livestock and shepherds befriending God’s family is immeasurable. Christmas music, Christmas decorations, and yes, even Christmas presents add to the joy and never fail to put a smile on my face. 

This past weekend, as I tried to reflect on what it means to be joyful in Christ, my heart was temporarily hardened as I attended a Reentry Arts & Information Fair for returning citizens. I helped host a table for Becoming Church and their Why We Can’t Wait initiative.

Shine the Light of Advent on Child Prostitution

Key Foster/Flickr/Creative Commons

Vulnerable youths are prey to sex trafficking Key Foster/Flickr/Creative Commons

The rhythm of the skies and seasons — the rhythm of the church year — both are ancient interlocking symphonies of light that call us to watchfulness and mindfulness. A small light can illumine vast spaces and dark corners of our selves. A light can reveal new aspects to things we thought we knew about our world. And, the light of knowledge can change perceptions about things we thought we understood.

As you read these words, there are tens of thousands of homeless children (perhaps more) on the streets in the United States. Reliable numbers are hard to find, because these children for the most part are invisible. You would probably not notice them if you saw them. Nevertheless, from law enforcement and other government reports, hotline statistics, and the experience of agencies such as youth outreach ministries, we know that homeless, runaway (or “thrown away”) children are part of our communities — eating at McDonald’s, riding the subways and buses, hanging out at the mall, talking on cellphones, and sitting in the park. What we don’t often see about their lives is that, as homeless youth, they are always vulnerable to the worst kinds of danger — from inadequate shelter, to sickness, to malnutrition, to physical violence, to terrible sexual exploitation. 

Immigration Reform: It Ain't Over Until God Says It's Done

An ornament hanging on the Fast for Families tree. Photo: Juliet Vedral/Sojourners

Saying an opening prayer at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service on Wednesday, in Washington, D.C. was both an honor and a blessing for me. The theme of the homily, by my good friend Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, was “it ain’t over until God says it’s done.”

I sat there listening to those words from an African American gospel hymn in the midst of my own circumstance of being on the ninth day of a water-only fast for comprehensive immigration reform. In my weakened condition, I was grateful that I had done the opening prayer and wouldn’t have to do the closing prayer! But fasting focuses you and it made me consider how Nelson Mandela would feel about a broken immigration system that is shattering the lives of 11 million immigrants, separating parents from children, and undermining the best values of our nation.

In our nightly meeting at what is now a packed fasting tent, I could imagine Nelson Mandela there with us, telling us to never give up until we win this victory for so many vulnerable people reminding us, "it ain’t over until God says it’s done." Or, as he would tell cynical pundits and politicians, “it is always impossible until it is done.” Today, following a procession from the Capitol which will now include many members of Congress, we will go to that tent and proclaim that immigration reform is not over, and we won’t give up until it’s done.

Hope and Despair

Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

Sunrise in the Gulf of Mexico. Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

Editor's Note: New Vision Renewable Energy connects Christians with opportunities to provide renewable solar lights to people in the developing world. Their Christmas Lights Advent Devotional features daily readings and questions from prominent Christian thinkers, including Sojourners president Jim Wallis. This Day 10 of Advent devotional from Jim Wallis is reprinted and adapted with permission of New Vision Renewable Energy. You can find the full Christmas Lights Advent Devotional guide and solar light kits here:

Proclaiming Jesus as light of the world is an audacious statement. It directly challenges all those idols that persistently attempt to replace God as the center of our lives and our world. In our culture, a selfishness that denies any obligation to anyone or anything beyond our own self-interest may be the greatest idol of all. It denies that demanding more and more energy at great cost to our environment and the people who live close to the land has problematic consequences. We have lost sight of the common good and the consequences have been devastating.

In many places, hope has turned into despair. Darkness seems to be crowding out light. From where will our help come from?

I Am Not A Good Christian

Photo: Tripp Hudgins

Mandela can become a symbol of God for some. Photo: Tripp Hudgins

What makes one a good person? Additionally, what makes one a good Christian? I have been spending some time wondering about this as news of Mandela’s death has been making it’s way across the planet. Was he a good man? I think so, but how do we measure that? How do we know? And if, as some have claimed, his greatness stemmed from his willing embodiment of his Christian faith, I need to know if he was a good Christian.

Guy Sorman writes of Mandela:

“The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, founded by President Mandela and led by Bishop Tutu, is perhaps the most concrete example of Mandela’s Christian faith. Instead of the vengeance and reprisals that were expected and feared after years of interracial violence, the commission focused on confession and forgiveness. Most of those who admitted misdeeds and even crimes — whether committed in the name of or in opposition to apartheid — received amnesty. Many returned to civil life, exonerated by their admission of guilt.”

Mandela is exemplary not because he was perfect, always kind to everyone he met, an ideal husband and father, but because of these larger virtues that he also attempted to live out. He lived into these virtues — all of them, large and small, and all of them incompletely.