Welcome to my weekly ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my opinions, doubts, fears, and hopes about modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.
Second Sunday of Advent
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It amazes me how we read scripture through our unique individual filters and biases. There’s no stopping it. Since I’ve started this lectionary series, I’ve done some research on what others are saying. We’re reading the same exact words yet what we take away from it is totally unique.
I love that.
When I was a kid, I used to see God as a passive male being up beyond the clouds somewhere. My role, as I understood it, was to do certain things so as to get on his good side. This was the goal, right?
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
— Luke 3:5–6
The first thing that strikes me about the passage above is how it’s not us individual humans going out with our bare hands and doing the filling, the lowering, the straightening, or the smoothing. It’s God who does this...
This takes trust in the unseen. It takes trust in (I even struggle to write it) God. When I set out to make my mountains low and valleys high — when I entertain my inner control freak — (1) I get really tired really fast and (2) it makes things worse. As I lean on my proverbial shovel, gasping for air with hands blistered and laden with splinters, I see how my efforts have been in vain.
Not that we should just sit on our hands in life. (Go ahead and try it. I’m pretty sure that, after a while, sitting there wiggling in your seat would feel a lot like work. You’d fight with every ounce of your being to stay there.)
God (life, The Universe, whatever you want to call it) moves us in a seemingly involuntary way. What the passage above says to me is that we must listen more than we talk. We must be more receptive rather than preemptive. When we wait (kinda what Advent is all about — waiting) just a little, we see that things fall in place much smoother. The roads are brought up to meet our feet and the mountains come down to us.
(BTW, note how this passage states that ALL FLESH shall see the salvation of God, not just the few who think they’re in the club.)
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
— Malachi 3:1
Again, he is coming.
It’s not about doing the right things to get to God. This God moves towards us.
And so, we wait. We hold fast. We remain poised, but in a state of acceptance and receptivity. Our job, as the next passage points to, is to offer up the stuff that causes us to disregard God and take matters into our own hands.
He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.
— Malachi 3:3
One of the biggest principles in mystical Christianity is self-emptying (kenosis). Everything gets offered up to God. Nothing is held onto by the individual self.
We do this through practice in contemplative prayer where we open the valve of our hearts and minds to release the mental yammerings that keep us trapped within our small individual selves. When we let that stuff go, we make way for something new. Something enlivening and healing. In other words, we make way for God to rush in.
Whatever your practice may be, this is the purification that God moves us through in many different forms. Especially out West, it’s not easy for us to wait and be on the receiving end of anything, let alone a purifying conversation with a spirit who doesn’t even talk in our native language.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
— Luke 1:78–79
Okay, it’s getting repetitive now... This God breaks in upon us — even we who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
This God guides our feet — not towards escape, but rather into a way of life.
I’ll wrap this up…
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight.
— Philippians 1:9
I love the distinction of adding ‘knowledge and full insight’ to ‘love’. This is a discerning love — one where the head and the heart meet.
And so, at this moment in Advent, we wait.
We become receptive to our path being made even. And we open our minds and hearts to a love full of knowledge and full insight.