Advent promises hope; so where is it?
Famously quoted, the beginning of Isaiah 2, which was one of the readings from the lectionary for the First Sunday of Advent, to Isaiah’s exilic audience and to us now, as we await our Messiah:
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord! (Isaiah 2:1-5)
Isaiah is offering a universal hope for all of the nations. There is a time where God’s reign will bring global peace, and we hold on to Isaiah’s hope, in the midst of our own exile and our own distress and pain. It is a wonderful message, and our lectionary frames it for us for our season of longing for hope. But Isaiah’s audience lack in hope now. They are oppressed. They are looking and longing for hope.
This vision gives them hope, and the memory of the Exodus, of God liberating them from their Egyptian slavemasters. In their current oppression, they remember that God is their redeemer and they are hopeful for the redemption that will await them.
They are the oppressed and they are looking for their oppressor to be transformed, for their oppressor’s swords to be turned to plowshares, for their spears to be turned into pruning hooks. They are looking not for their oppressors to be vanquished, but for universal peace.
Christians will often point to Jesus as the one who fulfills this prophecy. Advent is about waiting for the baby savior to come liberate us. And for those who follow Jesus, we know that he does that very thing, through his birth, life, death, and resurrection. But we also are well acquainted with our own captivity and our own prison; so as we await to welcome the baby, as wait to sing Glory to the God in the highest heaven—Gloria in excelsis Deo—we know that Christmas isn’t truly when we are liberated. We await the coming of the Lord once more; we await the return of our Messiah. We are stuck in our own Advent, and we remember the incarnation to recall the hope of God, as we await for a new hope to be born.
For Christians, though, we are often not oppressed in our current state. Yes, many of us our disabled, poor, queer, and BIPOC, but it is within those social statuses that we find ourselves oppressed, not because of our faith. Unfortunately, when it comes to oppression in the U.S., Christians are often the ones doing the oppressing. Christian nationalists and evangelicals lead the efforts against antiracism. Christians were also leading the efforts to not vaccinate, wear masks, or have any covid-precautions. Christians are the leading force behind transphobia and homophobia. And furthermore, they often perpetuate antisemitism. They are not oppressed people waiting for a liberator. They are oppressors who must repent of their oppression before the Kingdom of God is at hand.
For the oppressed, the Gospel is news of liberation. And for the oppressor, the Gospel is news of coming judgment. The arrival of Jesus is both a liberating and terrifying event. For those who war, it is a radical transformation, turning our spears into pruning hooks, our swords into plowshares, and never learning war any longer is a painful process. God will certainly bring it out and it may be painful, it may feel harsh, but it will be complete, and holy, and good.
For now, our job is to voluntarily participate in the coming Advent by worshipping this baby savior. We cast vision for the hope by embodying that hope right now in our lives. We submit to the coming king and repent. Advent is a season to embrace the vision of Isaiah and express it now. In the midst of our tribulation, we become beacons of hope, when we move with the Spirit and transform.
I admit, anger sometimes eclipses my hope, and I look at those holding me captive, and I do not want them to enjoy Isaiah’s eschatological vision. And it is then I remember that we don’t get to the peaceful eschaton without trial judgment. So instead of praying for the suffering of my enemies, because I am assured the perfect judgment of God, I pray for the mercy of God.
After all, I am not just a victim of oppression, but I am also a perpetrator of it. Even if I am repentant, the harm I’ve caused as an able-bodied Christian man needs reckoning, even if the harm I’ve faced as a brown queer man needs healing. We are complicated people, and we occupy the space of oppressor and oppressed. That doesn’t mean we need to find a third way between the two, or even offer empathy to those who oppress us, but that we seek both liberation and repentance for our complicity.
I’ve been an obstacle to antiracism, LBGTQIA inclusion, the advocacy of the disabled, and the liberation of the poor even when I’ve always been used as a witness and an ally in those struggles as well. God’s vision for the future delivered by Isaiah is good news for the oppressed and oppressor. It will liberate and purify us. God come quickly. We need your advent.