Advent Week Two
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
II Peter 3:8-15a
Even as we enter this season of anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ, our focus for this year is on the nearness of God. While our biblical ancestors awaited the coming of God’s promised Messiah, they still knew that God was never far from them and their plight.
The Gospel of Mark, like the Gospel of John, does not include a story of Jesus’ birth. Instead, it opens with a very different scene — the appearance of John the Baptist in the wilderness, proclaiming the coming of the Promised One and baptizing disciples in the river. John declares, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” (1:3). His message echoes the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3 of the approaching dawn of God’s promise to set all things right.
Both the original prophecy and John’s repetition are clear about what we are waiting for — the “day of the Lord.” The preparations the gospel enjoins are not preparations made amid absence, like the preparations that might be made for a visitor. The prophecies, instead, are precursors to an event. The message is not that God is coming at some time in the future but that the day is on its way.
This is an important distinction. So often, we view the future with expectant hope that God will come and set all things right. This kind of forward-looking hope is important. But this yearning for the fulfillment of God’s promise must be tempered by the faith that sees God already at work in the world as it is. We are not waiting on God; if anything, perhaps God is waiting on us (II Peter 3:9). John’s message is a reminder that, even as we await the final fulfillment of the promise, God is already at work, weaving the threads of God’s promise for us in our midst. To “prepare” is to “make straight” the ways, that is, to be about the ministry of the church now, participating in the work of justice and the full and final reconciliation God is making possible, even as we long for the day to come.
This message of active anticipation can be seen in a story of communities living around two different rivers, thousands of miles from the Jordan. In El Salvador, families from eight communities are working to restore the quality of the water they depend on from the San Antonio River, the Nejapa Aquifer and the Jiboa River. Through a project of the Sínodo Luterano Salvadoreño (Salvadoran Lutheran Church), the families have joined together to decontaminate the water from the tributaries to the rivers so that it will be safe to use for drinking, bathing and farming.
Miguel Angel Calderón Barahona is president of the La Granja Communal Association, one of the community groups working on the project. For Miguel, the project has meant more than just improving the water. “My life changed from the moment I decided to be part of this project,” he says. As a leader, “I have had the opportunity to reach beyond my perspectives as a member of the community [and to] reach out to other communities, see the needs in those communities and be able to be part of [their] development, as well.”
Part of the success of the program has been the ability to organize the people in the communities. That work began with an effort to improve the road to San Salvador, a route beset by fatal accidents. In working to improve the safety of the road, the community laid the groundwork and built the relationships that will now help them ensure access to quality water. Through the current project, Miguel says, the community has organized itself even more strongly, and now “the community at large is going to take a different course, and hopefully, it will be the path of success in our community.”
Reaching their goal has meant doing the hard work of preparation: petitioning communities and schools, building relationships and forging partnerships. The “path of success” is laid by the many small steps the communities take now that will lead to big changes.
We, as church together, know this. What is more, we know that even as we yearn for the day when all will be able to partake in the fruits of God’s good creation, God is at work now, through the efforts of people such as Miguel and his neighbors in Nejapa, El Salvador and other communities working for access to clean water around the world.
Preparing for the day to come means more than hoping for the final fulfillment of God’s promise. It means seeing, even now, that God is at work among us, and joining in this work. While we anticipate the event, we are not alone. In fact, we have never been alone, even this year. As we physically isolated from one another, God never isolated from us, as was evident in the many creative and courageous ways ministries adapted to ensure that the work of the church would go on — and that all would be prepared for the day to come.
- Where have you found God at work through the ministries of your church this year?
- How is working to ensure that all have clean water, sufficient food and resources to meet their other needs part of the church’s “active anticipation” of God’s promises for the future?
- What is a “path of success” for your community? How is the
church helping walk with neighbors on that path?
Ever-present God, through sickness, violence, discord and injustice we have yearned for the fulfillment of your promise. Make us, your church, a sign of the day to come, that we may reflect this hope to others. Knit us together with one another and with our neighbors, that none may feel alone or isolated from your life-giving love. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.