Churches following the lectionary – a group of Scripture lessons determined by the Christian calendar – might find the Advent Scriptures this year to be odd.
The selected texts focus not on the birth narratives of Jesus but on his second coming – what Jeremiah calls the coming “day of the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:14).
On the second Sunday in Advent, for instance, 2 Peter 3:10 was included, which reminds readers that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief.”
The Old Testament lesson was from Isaiah 40, which challenges heralds of good news to proclaim the coming of God and of God’s glory.
While our society is consumed by holiday shopping, busy family schedules and dinner planning, these lessons remind us that Jesus will come again and reclaim us as his own.
If we forget to prepare for that day or fail to meditate on the Lord, we may be caught off guard, knocked off balance by that very “thief in the night.”
There are few phrases in the Bible that excite the imagination, ignite our hope and challenge the heart as, “The day is coming, thus saith the Lord.”
It excites the imagination because when God is the focus of what we know about the future, we realize that an era will dawn in which earth and heaven will dissolve like melting snow and all things will be made right (2 Peter 3:10).
It ignites hope because it launches us on a movement toward fulfillment as it overwhelms despair, promises justice and righteousness, and ushers in the life of God’s redeeming love.
It challenges the heart as we are called to anticipate the return of King David’s descendant, King Jesus, who will come to judge all people.
Advent encourages anticipation and hope. It poses the idea that the past, present and future coalesced in that climactic moment when God came to earth in the flesh and promised to come back again to make a new heaven and a new earth where all tears will be wiped away and death itself will come to an end.
Advent is a protest that the current situations in which we struggle and wrestle do not have the final say.
When all the protests and media punditry surrounding the death of Michael Brown created a tornado of anxiety, I couldn’t help but grieve the deep injustice that continues to create fear in so many hearts.
Then I read a story about Maria Fernandes, a 32-year-old who had to work three jobs in order to make ends meet and pay for healthcare benefits because no one job paid a living wage.
She took a nap in her car between shifts, letting the car run for the sake of getting some warmth from the cold. She died from exhaust fumes that seeped into the vehicle.
These stories of uncertainty, grief, injustice – times in which violence has reached its height and minimum wage jobs perpetuate a working-class poverty level – remind us how meaningful Advent is in our current milieu.
Advent assumes that when Jesus returns, he will find his disciples being agents of grace and healing in this season of turmoil, economic oppression and grief.
Advent reminds us that God expects to find us not fueling the flames of war and conflict, but meeting the needs of victims of violence with a resolve that rests on the fact that God’s future will call all creation to account.
We are to bring light in these dark days because the day of God’s coming draws us ever closer to his kingdom.
In the words of Jennifer Ryan Ayers, associate professor of Christian ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary, Advent “points to the importance of waiting, anticipating and trusting in a promised future that seems very removed from our current circumstances.”
It is a time to “lean into God’s future” and share the good news that God’s reign of making all things right begins now.
This Advent season, may we not be caught off guard by the “day of the Lord.” Instead, may we embrace it, and let it drive our message of hope to others who face despair, disease and dysfunction.
Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Vero Beach, Florida.