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Lord, we beseech thee, give ear to our prayers, and by thy gracious visitation lighten the darkness of our hearts by our Lord Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one G-d, now and for ever.

G-d our redeemer, who prepared the blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son: Grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour, so we may be ready to greet him when he comes again as our judge; who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one G-d, now and for ever.

The First Reading – Micah 5: 2-5a
The Psalm – Psalm 80: 1-8
The Second Reading – Hebrews 10: 5-10
The Gospel Reading – Luke 1: 39-45,46-55

Three of the four readings for this final Sunday in Advent ring out with the misery of Exile; the people of Israel seek aid against an oppressive world order which seeks to demonstrate its own magnificence and power. For Christians, Advent is the period in which we await G-d’s answer to human pride in the form of a human baby; we await the antidote to Babylon in the form of an artisan’s scion. The pain and the earnestness which cries out in the Psalm—how long will you be angry at your people’s prayer? You feed them with the bread of tears—is one which moral peoples of our age can still express with the same feeling. We may not be experiencing the dislocation of forced migration, but we see the oppression of the poor, the needy, of women, of immigrants, of the other, all around us still. And it is easy to seek, with Micah, to answer overweening power with overweening power. But the G-d of David has a surprising answer; not from Rome, nor even Jerusalem, does his king come, but from a village. He comes not dealing retribution to world armies, but helpless, fleeing his own government.

The Shepherd of Israel’s advent was so successful that we sit here in the West in a society which is built upon foundations established in His name. We even have a winter holiday dedicated to the remembrance of the birth of this child. But this holiday is for us mostly a sentiment—one of fuzzy, humanist niceties, compassion, family, and charity. Of course, these are all good things, and may we all aspire to embody them more fully. But they miss the depth of the purpose behind the incarnation in a serious way. Charity can in a perverse way lead to selfishness and pride—selfishness by constructing an idyllic environment for oneself, pride in all the goodness one thinks one accomplishes. If we miss that the messiah comes to establish a society which does G-d’s will for its own sake, we will fail to ever truly commune with the one who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away with naught. Further, we will be prone to falling for the promises of whatever shepherd claims to offer us the good things we think we seek in such banal, christmastide platitudes. We will fail to see how our own actions can create exile for others. We will miss where we have appealed to power instead of weakness and love. We can fall for the inspiring motivational speeches which tell us ‘yes we can’ without forcing us to look inward for the causes of exile, whether they be the exile we force on others or which exists within ourselves.

Advent is a time to look around, look within, look above. These are things which should be done daily, but which many of us do all too rarely. It is an opportunity to look upon the darkness around us, take stock of our own collaboration in it, and to welcome the call for the dawn.

Heavenly Father, you have given us a pledge of eternal redemption. Grant that we may always eagerly celebrate the saving mystery of the incarnation of your Son. We ask this through him whose coming is certain, whose day draws near, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.*

*Prayers from the Book of Common Prayer.

 

Jason M. Silverman
25 December 2009
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