3rd Sunday of Advent [thoughts for the day by Stefan Herok]

On the advent path towards Christmas the Sundays are special stations. In former times, they were strongly characterized by family life and folk traditions, in crafting, making music and being together, they are often found today in shopping Sundays, “Christmas markets” or simply in the progressive loss of tradition. Advent 3 is, in the Catholic tradition, the  “gaudete” – “be happy!” Sunday. The classical chorus (introit) makes this clear in the recourse to Philippians 4: 4-6. Previously, the liturgical-fast-time purple of the vestments softened on this day to gentle-joyful pink. The evangelical church celebrates “Gaudete” on the 4th Advent. The question of the preservation and revival of advent traditions is for me also a question of “sustainability” in the wider sense. Certainly when one considers, peace, justice and the care of creation in their public and social dimensions and perspectives. The stabilizing power of rooted rituals and abundantly filled traditions thus becomes a sustainability issue. However, today one can not just blindly romanticise about the past. Where can we, in our worship services during Advent, clarify and strengthen those  traditions which are forward-looking, ie sustainable, and  which traditions should we part from. After all, we are specialists for “funerals”.

Both for evangelicals and catholics, the third advent biblical texts focus on John the Baptist: the prophetically oriented forerunner of Jesus. The narrative is dominated by images which, in the first place, use natural metaphors between the desert and “worn-down mountains”,  secondly use the motif of “repentance” and thirdly the “Kingdom promises of God”. I would like to demonstrate how much these images touch onsustainability aspects.

The calendar date of the third advent on December 11, 2016 also provides three possible sustainability aspects which I do not want to go into detail but will quickly explain.

On 11 December 1997 the so-called Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations was signed in Japan. It set binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for the period up to 2012. It was regarded as an extraordinary breakthrough for an internationally binding climate policy. In the meantime there has been a  follow-up protocol until 2020, but of course there are always problems with the application and implementation of such protocols.

On December 11, 1946, the United Nations founded its UNICEF children’s aid organization. This is celebrated in different ways just like a Birthday!  On the 3rd Advent 2016 it is exactly 70 years old!

The 11th of December is also an international day of action the “World Day of the Mountains”! In its justification for the creation of this day, the UN explicitly said that climate change is a threat to many mountains (not just the glaciers) and their habitat.

How and whether with this background, Luke 3.5 (evangelical), based on Isaiah 40: 3, can have a completely new tone, I do not know exactly: every ravine shall be filled, every mountain and hill shall be lowered? Do we have to be more careful in the application of biblical images that faith can “move mountains” in the face of natural disasters caused by man?

Luke 3: 1-14

In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets John the Baptist preaches  repentance. This gives eschatological seriousness and a messianic perspective to advent, which, however, a reality in life and action.

I see two sustainability aspects in this text:

I have already pointed out the perhaps necessary linguistic sensitisation in the context of biblical natural metaphor: What is crooked, shall be straight, every ravine shall be filled, every mountain shall be brought low. Of course, we understand what is meant by the picture: heart and soul are meant, the “stones” we put into each other’s path, the “mountain” of problems, the “chasms” of our divisioins etc.

But let’s pause for a moment, and consider whether, perhaps, in the practical dealings with nature, our familiarity with these  biblical images and language  hasn’t mislead us: when rivers were straightened, and their courses denatured when mountains and hills were brought low because the raw materials that they “hide”, are removed …, that seems to me today as useful as iit is necessary.

The return from the “desert” into life, to which the forerunner John calls us Advent people, is not simply to be baptized, to follow a fashion, and then to collectively be lulled into a false sense of security, just because one belongs socially to particular, relevant and leading and leading group for which the Church has no longer any real relevance…. True repentance should bring real fruit: solidarity, deaconry, sharing and participation, proportionality, fairness, professional ethos. And so this Bible text brings political explosiveness into the third Sunday in Advent and frees it from  the cheap and merry romance and all the rest of the kitsch in the “Waiting for the Christ-child”! Drama is announced: The “tree”, which does not bring fruit here, lands in the fire! If the “true, higher meaning of Advent” is not about “sustainability,” then what is?: Whoever has two robes, give one to the one who has none, and he who has to eat, should do likewise. And no tax collector may demand more than the fixed amount. And no soldier is allowed to abuse anyone.

Isaiah 35: 1-6 Here in the first reading one can clearly hear the  “Gaudete”. “Bliss and joy arise” Sunday  (verse 10) when the Messiah comes. Again, it is the great and final Advent which  is meant, which in our familiar and childlike way of preparing for Christmas actually does not occur. Certainly not in  the social reflex “bourgeois” Christmas. No chance for sustainability?  The promises of the Messianic kingdom of God are packed into splendid poetic Creation and Nature images. Salvation and healing, the salvation (verse 9) of man can not be expressed and described in any other way than in images of a restored world, nature, creation: flowering steppe, springs in the desert, juicy grass. And then therein the restored, whole human, with open eyes and ears; No robber, like no predator; Delivered and redeemed in eternal joy. The whole, indeed, as a gift of heaven and deed of God, but not without our involvement: restore the weakened hands and the wavering knees again! Tell the despairing: Have courage, do not be afraid! Behold, here is your God! (Verse 3) That would be our Advent contribution to “Fling open the door … and prepare your heart to be a temple.” To tell the story of this coming of God and to participate in this Advent in real and meaningful  way, by helping to bring our “inner and outer nature” into this restored state. “Along this path, only the redeemed ones go!” (Verse 9) What  strong language, what a beautiful picture! I would like to be a part of this!

Letter to James 5, 7-10 In the second reading the same motif. But more encouragement to patience and perseverance, less joyful. But not a bit less “sustainable”. And again in the natural and creation metaphor: How the farmer patiently waits for the harvest … Nature, again, as a picture for social, human responsibility: make your heart strong and exercise your brotherly/sisterly affection(verse 9)

Matthew 11: 2 Now in the Gospel,quite clearly and direct- the prophetic forerunner John  motif of Advent 3. With one of the most famous short formulas and condensed phrases of all Christianity in one sentence: “Blind see again and lame leap; Lepers will be clean and the deaf hear. The dead stand up, and the gospel is proclaimed to the poor. “(Verse 5) This  precedes Jesus (in John),  the entire life and ministry of Jesus; that is the lasting sign and the task for those who follow him, as it is expressed in many Easter-Pentecost mission formulas .For me personally most beautifully in the secondary ending of Mark’s Gospel: “Then he said to them,” Go out into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to all creatures! He who believes and is baptized is saved; But whoever does not believe will be condemned. And by those who came to faith, the following signs shall come: In my name they will cast out demons; They will speak in new languages; If they touch serpents or drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them; And the sick, on whom they lay their hands, shall be healed. “(Mark 16: 15-18) This is Advent, Christmas and Easter. This must therefore also be the Advent of the Christians, are serious in their mission. In the Gospel, creative metaphors appear only in the margins, when the “Naturburschen” John is spoken of (from verse 7). He is presented to us as an “anti-bourgeois” ideal Prophet (verse 8). To this day for me a prototype of “Creations active’ members for sustainability .

From Stefan Herok, Wiesbaden