Advent Reflections: An Advent Promise
[Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.]
By John H. Quinn, Jr.
Isaiah 2:1 - 5
Matthew 24: 36 - 44
Romans 13: 11 - 14
Each of us is called to be an applied theologian. Beginning today, the first day of Advent, we have the task and opportunity of asking how the traditional Advent themes to which we are again introduced in today’s Scripture passages—watchfulness, promise, preparation, and fulfillment—impact our lives as we actually live them. Can they? Do we believe they should? What does Advent study and prayer prepare us to do, to change?
The prophet and the psalmist proclaim that unity is a universal design feature of God’s world, not merely a “better” way of life. They envision a unified world in which swords are beaten into plowshares because nations will no longer take up sword against each other, a community in which each of us prays for the good of the other. That vision of social cohesiveness seems far-fetched, far removed from the divisiveness we historically have experienced and currently continue to experience. We have long lived with racial, economic, and ideological division, not mere differences. Major division caused us to fight a civil war 150 years ago, and in recent years and months caused us essentially to shut down the United States government. Even participants in church meetings have seen angry outbursts or passive resistance resulting from opposition to or frustration inspired by decisions made or not made during the meeting.
The premise of the Matthew and Roman passages is that failure to work toward and achieve social cohesiveness is a lack of conformity to God’s will. Given that reality, our task is to better understand the complexity that characterizes our world. We must evaluate differences and either disregard them because they are not significant or negotiate with respect to significant differences to avoid divisiveness. We are called to avoid and ameliorate divisions based on racial, economic, ideological, and even religious differences. Both Scripture and experience tell us not to fear each other, to communicate with each other lovingly, to accept God’s forgiveness of us and to forgive each other. These are the tools we must use to achieve collaborative relationships.
What sword can each of us beat into a plowshare? What attitude can I change to create greater social cohesiveness? What selfish desires can I abandon? What do I unworthily fear? What unhealthy or dysfunctional behavior can I avoid or change? For whose good can I pray? Am I up to these challenges? The prophet and the psalmist assure us that the promise of unity will be fulfilled as the result of each one of us combating divisiveness.
Prayer: Gracious and loving God, enable me to start this new ecclesiastical year with fresh awareness of your steadfast love for me and all of your creation. Help me to stay alert to this reality as I seek to be your faithful, collaborative disciple, encouraging fellow disciples as all of us await with hope the fulfillment of your promise for social cohesiveness. Amen.
John H. Quinn, Jr. is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.
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