Advent: from ranting to singing

Dec 4, 2019 by

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Advent is a season of patience and reflection, even confession and tears. It is a time of observing, watching, staying awake.

The Isaiah texts that mark this year’s Advent scriptures are anything but quiet. The prophet begins with a clarion call: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:1-5).

For 21st-century Christians, this raises the question of just where we might go. Well, the prophet says, go to the place of judging between the nations, beating swords into plowshares and learning of war no more.

I respond, “That is just what we need!” This call means we must change our warring ways, stop stockpiling nuclear weapons and teach our children ways of peace.

Maybe, on the first Sunday of Advent, our congregations should pound our guns into garden tools.

The second Sunday of Advent continues an invitation to unbelievable change. God seems to be putting opposites and potential victims together: wolf and lamb, calf and lion, children as leaders.

What? The prophet paints a picture so unreal, so impossible, that anyone in any culture sees this vision as, well, impossible. Yet we read about a promise of a new voice, “a branch shall grow out of the root of Jesse” (11:1).

Maybe, on this Sunday, we could gather our families around trees, bushes and neighborhood vines. Do we see new life or only dead branches? Are we marveling at tiny, green shoots of wheat on prairie ground?

Try organizing a “rake your lawn” event for families.

As sunlight becomes more limited and nights are longer, we hear the prophet, on the third Sunday (35:1-10), issue another cry. It’s a note of hope (“the desert shall rejoice and blossom”) and then a rant (“God will come with vengeance”).

This season is full of contradictions and cosmic events. We know about those contradictions in our lives, too. A friend loses a spouse to death while a neighbor welcomes a new baby. One loses a job and another finishes specialized training. Children make college applications while grandparents decide to retire. Politics divides families. The economy rewards some and bankrupts others. Spiritual growth results in baptism, and others drift away from the church.

The prophet Isaiah seems to yell a little louder, acknowledging life’s complications and inequalities and yet confirming that God’s Spirit is about joy, new life, safety, singing.

Take a plant to someone. Plant a tree.

In the fourth Sunday’s text (7:10-16), the prophet seems to know we are weary, confused, teetering on the edge of hopelessness. Things seem in the shadows. We need something concrete, tangible and accessible to ignite the fire of hope.

The prophet has a solution to our weariness with national divisions and political rants. The promise? A child. It seems that a tiny infant, an exceptional human being, will be a sign of hope.

We see an infant toddling into the arms of a loving aunt. We see siblings sing in a choir. We see new faces in worship. We notice students performing musicals. We see caring ministries for those who are suffering pain. We are blessed with worship filled with music, prayers and inspiration.

Attend a concert or enjoy a recording of seasonal music.

A little ranting is not all bad — especially when we notice, as the prophet Isaiah did, that things are not well. War, famine, violence, abuse and hunger are too common. I also hear singing. I notice notes of welcome, hospitality, service and witness. Advent moves us from ranting to singing.

Dorothy Nickel Friesen, a ­retired Mennonite Church USA conference minister and pastor, lives in Newton, Kan., and chairs the board of Springs Forth! Faith Formation Inc., which publishes multi­age curriculum at ­springsforth.com.


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