expectation

Waiting Faithfully

Christian faith involves waiting with confidence. Photo via Wittybear/shutterstock.com

What does the Christian life consist of? What does God expect from us?

Here’s Jesus’ answer, according to Matthew’s Gospel: “Wait faithfully. Together. Or else.”

Sure, that isn’t an exact quotation, but it sums up — again, according to Matthew — what Jesus says to his followers when he instructs them about how they should live after he has departed from this earth.

Let me address the “or else” part first. That usually attracts the greatest attention.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus seems a little infatuated with judgment and retribution. At the conclusion of each of the four parables he tells within Matthew 24:45-25:46, the section that comes just before the plot to seize and kill him springs into action, certain characters don’t fare so well. They are cast out to where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” locked out of a banquet by the guy who presumably invited them in the first place, tossed into “outer darkness,” or punished in “eternal fire.” Along with the book of Revelation, Matthew’s Gospel has generated a large share of distress through the centuries.

Are these promises about judgment authentic warnings spoken by an uncomfortably stern Jesus, or are they brutal revenge fantasies put into his mouth by ancient Christian communities that had lost the ability to trust their own members or to put up with differing opinions and practices? We may never know.

The New Commonwealth of God

A PROFOUND SENSE of expectation launches a new year. As the season of Advent commences the Christian year, just weeks before the turn of the calendar year, familiar biblical stories invite us to begin again by glimpsing the coming reign of God. Weekly worshippers and annual attendees gather for the season premiere of the greatest story ever told. A promise. A vision. A hope. Great expectation.

The ancient prophet, psalm, gospel, and epistle together extend to the contemporary preacher words of unflinching hope that emerge fresh from the rubble of turmoil, trial, and tribulation of every God-seeking generation. Today’s words of hope must also descend like the savory aroma of a holiday meal, promising solace to the harmed, heartbroken, and hindered.

Familiarity with the Advent and Christmas narratives may leave us unaware of the radical expectation and potential impact that reciting these events can bring. These readings offer an arresting narrative of divine presence inaugurating an unprecedented commonwealth from among the divided nation. The vision makes no sense if it does not offer an alternative to the existing promises of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The narrative challenges us to understand that our celebration of the birth of Jesus is not shiny lights or a musical presentation. It anticipates the arrival of goodness signaling an end to corruption and gloom. This global holiday extends the drama narrated in Christian scripture as each generation must wrestle again with the contemporary relevance of the birth of Jesus.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

[ DECEMBER 1 ]
Do You See What I See?
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

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The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Image by K. J. Snoes

The clouds, pregnant with rain. No light
but an inkling of light. If Advent is a time

of waiting, of joyful anticipation, why are we
so often troubled? Consider Mary, the unknown

future she holds. Or Amy, staying the day
with D—, expecting in January, alone and now

spotting with unexpected blood, baby not yet
ready. What was our life before children? Years

of memories now include the children—as if they
already were born, only we could not see them.

Mary was “greatly troubled.” What burden of light
do we bear? Something in us and not us,

in which we see ourselves and those we love,
and something else, beyond all naming?

Philip Metres’ most recent collections of poems are A Concordance of Leaves and abu ghraib arias. He teaches at John Carroll University near Cleveland.

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A Prayer For The Christmas Season

Christmas tree detail. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.
Christmas tree detail. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

I have heard it said that people of Christian faith should be more about Easter and less about Christmas. Easter is a powerful hope but it deals with things beyond this life.  It is a sure and certain hope but one that eludes my imagination, confounds my concrete mind.

The crucifixion is something I can wrap my mind around.  We have only to open our eyes and our hearts to the realities of the world and we recognize the darkness of Good Friday. When the season is upon us I will dwell with great gratitude at the foot of the cross.  

But, Lord God, I want to stay for a while in Christmas where hope is something I can cradle to my chest. I want to dwell here where music sings the promise of love, reminding me of those Mary moments in my life when it seems truth and love are about to burst forth from within and change the world.  

Let me hearken to Mary’s song and hear it as a radical claim awakening me for the sake of revolution, to grab hold of the Kingdom of God already present amongst us. 

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