by Rebecca Boardman, United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG), Regional Manager for East Asia, Oceania and Europe, London, UK
NOTES ON THE READINGS
Old Testament (Malachi 3:1-4)
In this passage as the prophet Malachi announces the coming of God and God’s messenger who will “prepare the way” (v1). He also challenges those listening “But who can endure the day of his coming?” (v2) In doing so Malachi is reminding that in the joyful anticipation and expectation of the coming of the Lord (which can often be will be exclusively celebratory and exciting) that there will be an accompanying judgement or a ‘refining’ – a difficult process requiring change, and potentially one that should evoke some element of fear (albeit one designed for good). Malachi is encouraging honest and possibly uncomfortable self-reflection. As such, his message is both one of hope and promise and a warning.
(not a) Psalm (Luke 1: 68-79)
Zechariah’s Song also known as “The Benedictus”. This is both a prophesy and a spirit-filled song of thanks and praise. Spoken after the loosening of Zechariah’s tongue (Zechariah had been made dumb as punishment for his lack of faith; for not believing God’s promise that he an Elizabeth would have a son – John the Baptist). The song proclaims the fulfilment of God’s promise to his people, speaking both the that which has already been done and that which is yet to come (thus a song of the season of advent). It exists in the themes of hope and salvation.
The passage has two section:
Verses 68-75 speaks to the fulfilment of the promises and prophecies of Israel that are coming to fulfilment in Jesus. The language of the passage holds great similarity to many psalms of praise and also littered with references to passage of the Hebrew Bible. There is the hope of salvation from sin.
Verses 76-79 speak to the life and ministry of his son John, emphasising his role in fulfilment of God’s salvation promise in and through the life of Jesus Christ. John is identified as “prophet of the Most High” who will “prepare the way” of the Lord – in this we are reminded of Elijah (who John is thought to be like). Verses 78 and 79 speaks to the hope that Christ will bring, bringing light to “those living in darkness” and being a guide in the “path of peace”.
Epistle (Philippians 1: 3-11)
An introduction and some opening comments of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Philippi was a centre for the early Church. Some have seen this as a love letter – it is one of the most positive and encouraging of Paul’s letter. Paul prays for and gives joyful thanks to God for the Christians at Philippi who have shared in spreading the good news. He gives thanks that God’s work is evident in their lives. Paul affirms the community who are already loving in a spirit of koinonia (bond of Christian friendship/fellowship/ community). Paul prays that their love might overflow even more, because to love more is to share in the gospel more even if this involves suffering.
Gospel: (Luke 3: 1-6)
Luke splits the account of John the Baptist’s ministry between the second and third Sundays of advent. Here we read the first part. Luke provides the historical context to John the Baptist’s ministry. He also provides a detailed list of political and religious human rulers (including a number who would be significant in the life of Jesus Christ). This draws contrast to the nature and coming of God’s kingdom (an authority based on grace not power). The introduction to John is similar in tone to that of Old Testament prophets. In drawing attention to the word of God coming from John in the wilderness (v2) not the significant powerful political and religious figures mentioned in the previous verse we are reminded that God often speaks in the less visible places (the margins) rather than at the centres of power. We read of John’s ministry, calling people to repentance.
DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
Prophets of our Time
[I draw attention in the beginning to a 4 ½ minute video from Pastor Ray Minniecon on caring for the environment as part of the Christian identity. Ron is from New South Wales and was present at the recent COP26 climate summit. This could be played at the beginning of the service
As we enter the second Sunday of Advent we turn our attention to ‘the prophets’.
We continue to reflect on the seasonal themes of advent: the balance of expectation, preparation and hope and the confrontation of divine judgement. We acknowledge the darkness and injustice of our present day. The destruction, fear and injustice of our current climate and ecological crisis seems to exemplify this darkness. As we consider the loss of home, belonging and culture with sea level rise; the increase in migration, gender and educational inequality and health threat from climate change, and fear of the impacts of increasingly more regular and intense disasters (to name but a few) it can be easy to feel the darkness. Growing levels of eco-anxiety, particularly among children and young people is another illustration. Yet it is within this darkness that we also have hope that this same darkness will be broken by light – the light of Christ. We know that we find ourselves in the in-between. The Advent time of already and not-yet. That the light of Christ has come and yet at the same time is yet to shine in its fullness. A time of waiting, anticipation and frustration. This is the context in which we live.
In considering the prophets, we reflect on the ways in which the birth of Jesus was foretold; who did the telling and where these voices came from. I invite us to think about who are the prophets of our time? Who can point us to justice, freedom and light today?
Prophets are the voice of God. They do not make up their own messages but they speak divine messages that God has for God’s people. The term ‘prophetic voices’ is growing in use when considering climate change. 7 years ago NGO Christian Aid published a global theology of climate change entitled ‘Song of the Prophets’. Last Advent the Anglican Indigenous Network and Anglican Communion Environmental Network offered a series of webinars entitled “Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis” highlighting perspectives and experiences from Aotearoa and Polynesia, Amazonia, Africa and the Arctic (may I encourage you to watch these if you haven’t already – they are available on the Green Anglicans YouTube!).
Like the Old Testament prophets, as we enter into the lived realities of those already experiencing the impact of the climate and ecological crisis and hear their intense emotions we also glimpse the intense emotions of God. Prophets are of their time and place. Their words came from a particular lived experience. They lived and spoke to a particular people at a particular time. John was also a prophet of a particular time, speaking of the imminent coming of Christ. The prophets of today speak to the context of today. Revealing the voice of God and God’s justice for creation.
Our Gospel reading speaks to where we might find these voices. God chose not to speak through the political and religious powers of the day. God chose to speak through John in the wilderness. We are reminded that God often speaks in the less visible places (the margins) rather than at the centres of power. Who currently sits at the margins? Might I suggest indigenous peoples, youth, women, the diversity of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, those segregated by caste and the working class to name but a few (and fully acknowledging the intersectionality here, increasing and compounding both vulnerabilities and marginalisation). There may be prophets all around us: may I invite you to consider the prophets in your congregations and in your communities? Do you heed both their warning and promise of hope? How might your community further encourage them to speak and be heard? For some that might mean taking a step back to allow new voices to come through.
As we have seen in this week’s readings prophets act to both share warning and a promise of hope and salvation. As in our reading from Malachi, by highlighting the role of divine judgement in salvation, prophets can draw us into a space of honest and possibly uncomfortable self-reflection. For many -especially those in the minority world, or in place of power and wealth – deeply listening and acting upon the words of today’s prophets speaking to climate justice do just that. To enter a space of uncomfortable self-reflection for the ongoing role in exploitation of people and planet.
At the same time prophets speak to justice, peace and love that comes through the light of Christ. In the webinar series “Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis” people share both “a lament in the present and a vision for well living” drawing on indigenous wisdom for shaping a vision of a better future. It is important to balance our warning with new creation. We can see a glimpse of the joy of this vision of community in our reading from Philippians. Paul’s thankfulness and affirmation of the community who are living and loving in a spirit of koinonia, sharing in the good news of Jesus Christ and spreading that good news of the gospel. This gives a glimpse of the community that we could be when living in a missional spirit: one that seeks to see the gospel shared in words and deeds, challenging structures of injustice and safeguarding the integrity of creation.
In the words of N.T. Wright “you don’t liberate something by destroying it… all the beauty, all the goodness, all the pulsating life of the present creation, is to be enhanced, lifted to a new level, in the world that is to be… [so] there is a strong incentive to work, in the present, to anticipate the new world in every possible way.” Today’s prophetic voices can draw us into the possibilities of this new world, bringing hope and transformative change. Will we be alert to their message even if it is uncomfortable? Will we heed their warning? Will we enter into the hope of a new world based on justice and peace?
Loving God, your prophets spoke out
in the darkness of suffering and loss,
of a light coming into the world.
May we proclaim the light of Christ
as we stand alongside the marginalised
of your world,
that they may find new strength
and hope in you.
(A prayer from USPG)
Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis YouTube Playlist:
Songs of the Prophets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6LcVKEPTOg
by Rebecca Boardman,London