With Thanksgiving and Black Friday now behind us, we nestle into an active yet holy time of year. December has arrived, and for the next several weeks, we embrace a season called Advent.
Advent is generally known as a time of waiting and eager anticipation — both for Christmas and for Jesus' second coming. We prepare, we watch, we reflect: all important components of a life of faith.
Before we know it, Christmas Eve will be here and our energies will be focused on a baby in a manger. But until then, we turn our attentions to a bunch of biblical messengers.
Messengers are a big deal in the Bible. They come in forms both human and divine. In the Old Testament and the New. Angels, prophets and truth speakers young and old. During the Sundays of Advent, messengers play a primary role in the biblical texts that are commonly read during worship services. John the Baptist, Isaiah, Zephaniah and Malachi all get a turn to proclaim words of truth, hope and intrigue.
In the Advent Scripture readings, messengers say things like:
• "Do not fear" — Zephaniah 3:16
• "God will deal with the oppressors" — Zephaniah 3:19
• "You are a brood of vipers" — Luke 3:7
• "Share" — Luke 3:11
• "God is like a refiner's fire and a fuller's soap" — Malachi 3:2
• "All flesh shall see the salvation of God" — Luke 3:6
Messengers present their truths in different tones. Sometimes their words are delicious and easy to swallow like a giant slice of pumpkin pie (with whipped cream). Other times their words are crunchy, spicy and hard to digest like a head of broccoli dunked in sriracha.
Sometimes biblical messengers bring quiet words of comfort, like the peace of a babbling brook. Other times, their words sound like a toddler in front of a piano, banging out every ear-piercing note.
During Advent, we listen and pay attention to the words of the biblical messengers. But just as we make time to listen, we also note that Advent is a season to speak. Messengers aren't just some archaic fossil of times gone by. They exist here and now, in us all. As journeyers of faith, the same spirit that moved in the prophets of the Bible moves in us.
During Advent, we prepare for Jesus' coming by speaking truth to power, questioning systems of oppression and acknowledging wrongdoing in ourselves and our world. As we serve as modern-day messengers, we do so with careful listening and preparations. We ask God for guidance.
John the Baptist plays an important role in the season of Advent. He was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah. John prepared the way for Jesus and announced his coming. He hung out in the wilderness and snacked on bugs. He lived way out on the fringes of society and spoke epic words about Jesus' identity and purpose.
I admire a lot of things about John the Baptist, but you know what I love about him the most? He doesn't appear to spend a lot of time second-guessing himself. I just can't imagine him biting his tongue a whole lot. I don't think he got home at the end of a long day of preparing the way and thought, "I wonder if I came across as too bossy. Was I too harsh? Maybe I should just quiet down."
No, no, no. Messengers don't spend their lives second-guessing. They proclaim! They speak out with words of justice, peace and compassion.
This Advent season, we wait, watch and listen. We also speak! We step out into our individual contexts and prepare the way.
As Zephaniah promised thousands of years ago, "God is in our midst." We walk and speak this Advent season with our creator's guidance close at hand.