Unsettling Advent, Day 16
“Shall not Lebanon in a very little while become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be regarded as a forest? On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. For the tyrant shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be; all those alert to do evil shall be cut off — those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit, who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate, and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right.” (Isaiah 29:17-21)
American Christmas mythology appears to be mainly about being happy, jolly, and untroubled, eating Christmas cookies by the tree with our splendidly intact families while watching great old movies and waiting for Santa to come. You might say American Christmas is happy-and-private.
In the Christian calendar, however, this time of year is called Advent. If you follow the Church’s historic daily pattern of readings, you encounter many passages like the one above, which turned up in the readings for Friday, Dec. 3. This text, a very typical one in Isaiah, promises a “day” when what is broken in Israel, and in the world, is finally made right — because at last God will act to save us.
And so much is broken, so much needs repair. Just in these few verses we see promises of ecological healing, hearing for the deaf, sight for the blind, joy for the meek, exultation for the neediest, and of course an overthrow of tyrants, scoffers, evildoers, and those who distort justice.
Of course? Well, not “of course” if we are talking about what most Christians think of when they think of the meaning of Christmas.
But definitely “of course” when one is aware of the prophetic tradition of Israel and the nature of the promised kingdom of God. And when one is aware of how political injustice is one of the things that humanity very much needs to be delivered from.
This is a week about Advent in a time of insurrection. The editors must be thinking of Jan. 6, and the continuing efforts of the wannabe tyrant Donald Trump and his band of scoffers, lawbreakers, and evildoers to undermine our system of government in this country.
This text helps us see our reality for what it is: a tyrant (Trump), surrounded by scoffers of our country’s norms, justice, and law (Flynn, Stone, Bannon, Giuliani, etc.), “alert to do evil” when it comes to our undermining democracy and the rule of law.
Let us pray this Advent that this particular promise will be fulfilled soon and very soon, in our country and beyond:
For the tyrant shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be; all those alert to do evil shall be cut off.
David P. Gushee is distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University and chair of Christian social ethics at Vrije Universiteit (“Free University”) Amsterdam/IBTS. He is also the author of several books, including After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity.