First Saturday of Advent

“Glory in the Wilderness”

They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. —Isaiah 35:2

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” —Matthew 3:3b

Advent is the season when we await the coming of God’s glory, which has not yet come. Glory. Since the word is so odd, we may wonder exactly what it is that we wait for. We may even ask if we would know it if we saw it.

The glory of Yahweh is not simply bland, ordinary, enthusiastic religion. Affirmation of God’s glory is always a counter-statement. It is not only pro-Yahweh, but it is also determinedly anti. We do not know what to sing for if we do not understand what we sing against. The glory of God is not sung in a vacuum but in a context where much is at risk.

The context, according to this poem, is the wilderness and the desert. The wilderness is a place where the power for life is fragile and diminished. The inhabitants of the desert are those with weak hands and feeble knees and fearful hearts, those who have had their vitality crushed and their authority nullified and their will for life nearly defeated. This poem is a roll call of the marginalized, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the dumb, all the disabled. The wilderness is a place where the power for life is fragile and diminished.

It is Advent time in the wilderness. Shriveled up earth and crushed down humanity wait for the coming, in the wilderness. It is no wonder that John quotes Isaiah, “Prepare in the wilderness a special way.” It is no wonder that John, in anticipation of Jesus, says, “They shall all see the glory.” They shall all see God’s massiveness and power that transforms. The wonder and the oddness is that in the shadow of that great glory comes the protected, rescued, vulnerable, valued ones who travel for the first time in safety and in joy. There finally is shalom on earth, even in the desert. The choirs, however, never sing of shalom on earth, until they first celebrate the glory. The shalom of the desert follows from the glory of God.

In Advent, we know about the God who transforms, makes new, and begins again. No wonder creation and humanity, one at a time, all together, sing of the new world bursting with the abundant glory of God.

Too often we have become inured to the wilderness, O God, to the fragility and diminishment of life. But Advent is the season of your coming. May we celebrate your glory and sing of your shalom. Amen.


Throughout Advent we invite you to join us as we prayerfully prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with daily readings from Walter Brueggemann’s Devotions for Advent: Celebrating Abundance. They will be posted here daily with permission from the author, but we invite you to click the link to order your own copy.

First Friday of Advent

“The Poem: Subversion and the Summons”

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. —Isaiah 11:9

In poetry we can do things not permitted by logic or reason. Poetry will open the world beyond reason. Poetry will give access to contradictions and tensions that logic must deny. Poetry will not only remember but also propose and conjure and wonder and imagine and foretell.

So Jews, in their covenantal fidelity, did poems. Miriam did poetry when they crossed out of Egyptian slavery. Deborah did poetry when it dawned on them that the Canaanites were not so formidable. Hannah did poetry when little Samuel was born. Eventually Mary did poetry when she found out she was pregnant. All these mothers in Israel celebrated the impossible that was right before their eyes, even though they could explain none of it. They did poetry while the hard men were still parsing logic, writing memos to each other, and drafting briefs.

I propose that Advent is a time of struggle between the poem that opens the future that God will work and the memo that keeps control. Advent is a time for relinquishing some of the control in order to receive the impossible from God.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (vv. 6–7)

The old enmities, the old appetites of the food chain, the old assumptions of the survival of the meanest, all of that is subverted. The wild will not stay vicious, because the coming one, marked by righteousness and justice, will overrule raw power in the interest of new possibility. Finally, the young child will toy with the asp and the adder; nobody will get hurt, because the poison will be removed from the world. The poison will be gone because the shoot will override all business as usual. All will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.

The poem is about advent, about the coming one. And we dare to say, we confessing Christians, that the poem concerns the Christmas baby who refuses Rome’s rule of force and religion’s rule of code, opening the world to healing, freedom, forgiveness, and joy. So try this in Advent: depart from logic and memo and syllogism, and host the poem.

Break open our imaginations this Advent, O God, so that we might see a world decisively shaped by your fidelity. Aid us in relinquishing control in order to receive your newness. Amen.


Throughout Advent we invite you to join us as we prayerfully prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with daily readings from Walter Brueggemann’s Devotions for Advent: Celebrating Abundance. They will be posted here daily with permission from the author, but we invite you to click the link to order your own copy.

First Thursday of Advent

“Season of Decrease”

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
—Isaiah 65:25

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” —John the Baptist, in John 3:30

Into this season pushes the unkempt, unwelcome figure of John the Baptizer. You remember him. He is dressed in a hair shirt. He eats wild honey and such other gifts that he can forage in the rough.

He comes in anger and demanding, with threats and insistence. He speaks really only one word: Repent! Recognize the danger you are in and change. In the Gospel narrative, John embodies the best and the last of the old tradition of Torah demand. He has this deep sense of urgency about the world, but it is not an urgency of newness. It is an urgency of threat and danger and jeopardy, one that we ourselves sense now about our world. He comes first in the story. He comes before Jesus. He is the key player in the Advent narrative.

When Jesus appears on the scene, John the Baptizer immediately acknowledges the greatness of Jesus, greater than all that is past—greater than John, greater than all ancient memories and hopes. When Jesus comes into the narrative, John quickly, abruptly, without reservation says of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

What to do while we watch and wait this Advent season? Move from the large vision of Isaiah to the small discipline of John. If John embodies all that is old and Jesus embodies all that is new, take as your Advent work toward Christmas that enterprise: decrease/increase. Decrease what is old and habitual and destructive in your life so that the new life-giving power of Jesus may grow large with you: Decrease what is greedy, what is frantic consumerism, for the increase of simple, life-giving sharing. Decrease what is fearful and defensive, for the increase of life-giving compassion and generosity. Decrease what is fraudulent and pretense, for the increase of life-giving truth-telling in your life, truth-telling about you and your neighbor, about the sickness of our society and our enmeshment in that sickness. Decrease what is hateful and alienating, for the increase of healing and forgiveness, which finally are the only source of life.

Advent basks in the great promises. In the meantime, however, there are daily disciplines, day-to-day exercises of Advent, work that requires time and intentionality.Advent is not a time of casual waiting. It is a demanding piece of work. It requires both the outrageousness of God and the daily work of decreasing so that Jesus and God’s vision of peace may increase.

In this season of Advent, open our hearts to receive the hard word of repentance. Empower us to decrease what is old, habitual, and destructive in our lives so that the new life-giving power of Jesus may grow large within us. Amen.


Throughout Advent we invite you to join us as we prayerfully prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with daily readings from Walter Brueggemann’s Devotions for Advent: Celebrating Abundance. They will be posted here daily with permission from the author, but we invite you to click the link to order your own copy.

First Wednesday of Advent

“The Vicious Cycle is Broken”

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. —Isaiah 2:4

It is written elsewhere that there will always be wars and rumors of wars. It is written in the American psyche that the big ones will always eat the little ones. It is written in the hearts of many hurting ones that their situation will always be abusive and exploitative. It is written and it is believed and it is lived, that the world is a hostile, destructive place. You must be on guard and maintain whatever advantage you can. It is written and recited like a mantra, world without end.

In the middle of that hopelessness, Advent issues a vision of another day, written by the poet, given to Israel midst the deathly cadence. We do not know when, but we know for sure. The poet knows for sure that this dying and killing is not forever, because another word has been spoken. Another decision has been made. A word has been given that shatters our conventions, which bursts open the prospect for life in a world of death. The poem lingers with dangerous power, even for us, even now.

Watch that vision, because it ends in a dramatic moment of transformation. The old city is full of blacksmiths who have so much work to do. Listen and you can hear the hammer on the anvil. The smiths are beating and pounding iron, reshaping it, beating swords into plowshares and spears into tools for orchards. They are decontaminating bombs and defusing the great weapons systems. The fear is dissipating. The hate is collapsing. The anxiety is lessening. The buildup of competitive threat is being reversed. The nations are returning to their proper vocation—care of the earth, love of creation, bounty for neighbor, enough for all, with newness, deep joy, hard work, all because the vicious cycles are ended and life becomes possible.

This vision sounds impossible. It sounded impossible the first time it was uttered; it has not become more realistic in the meantime. Advent, nonetheless, is a time for a new reality. It is not the poem but the old power arrangements of deathliness that are unrealistic. They are unrealistic among the nations and in our communities and churches and families. There is a new possibility now among us, rooted in God’s love and God’s suffering power. Power from God’s love breaks the vicious cycles. We have seen them broken in Jesus, and occasionally we have seen them broken in our own lives. It is promised that the cycles can be broken, disarmament will happen, and life can be different. It is promised and it is coming, in God’s good time.

God of love and suffering power, speak again your word of transformation in the midst of our weary world. We so easily capitulate to despair, to numb acceptance of deathly orders. Break the vicious cycles, and kindle in us once again a passion for the possible. Amen.


Throughout Advent we invite you to join us as we prayerfully prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with daily readings from Walter Brueggemann’s Devotions for Advent: Celebrating Abundance. They will be posted here daily with permission from the author, but we invite you to click the link to order your own copy.

First Tuesday of Advent

“Celebrating the New Abundance”

And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish.
—Mark 6:42–43

In the Gospel of Mark, in chapter 6, Jesus does one of his most impressive miracles, that is, a transformative event to exhibit the saving power of God that is present in and through his life. It is the narrative of feeding the five thousand people. Mark tells us that Jesus had gone with his disciples apart to pray, but huge crowds followed him. Jesus saw the crowds and reacted in kindness to them. He saw their need, and he was moved by compassion for them. He wanted to make their life better. First he taught them the good news of God’s generous love. And then he fed them … all five thousand of them.

The disciples didn’t understand, of course, and thought he couldn’t feed such a big crowd. So he took the five loaves and the two fish … that is one man’s lunch. He took what was there, but then he acted on what was there in his lordly, compassionate, generous way. He turns ordinary food into a sacramental sign of God’s massive goodness and generosity. Mark reports:

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. (Mark 6:41)

The words sound familiar, do they not? His prayer consists in the four big verbs of Holy Communion: “He took, he blessed, he broke, he gave.” Jesus takes the ordinary stuff of life in all its scarcity—two fish and five loaves—and transforms them into God’s self-giving generosity. The outcome was that “all ate and were filled” (v. 42). But that is not all: there were twelve baskets left over, enough bread for all the tribes of Israel.

The church—the disciples—are always a little slow, unwilling to learn what the new data of Jesus means, unwilling to recognize that the world is changed by Jesus, unable to act differently in the new world of Jesus. The disciples seem often to act as though Jesus did not really matter; they act as though the world were still bound in scarcity and anxiety and fearfulness and hoarding.

But let me tell you the news that is proclaimed in Christ’s coming, about which we are reminded at every Communion service: Jesus has turned the world into abundance. God is the gift who keeps on giving, and the people around Jesus are empowered to receive abundance and therefore to act generously.

Every day, all day: it’s still true! “He takes, he blesses, he breaks, he gives.” And we are astonished about the surplus. It is all there for those with eyes to see, with ears to hear, and with hearts to remember. We are recipients of enough and enough and more than enough, enough and enough and more than enough to share. And to be glad in this Giver who keeps on giving … endlessly.

God whose giving knows no end, make us glad recipients of your generosity. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to remember your abundance, that we might share it with the world. Amen.


Throughout Advent we invite you to join us as we prayerfully prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with daily readings from Walter Brueggemann’s Devotions for Advent: Celebrating Abundance. They will be posted here daily with permission from the author, but we invite you to click the link to order your own copy.

First Monday of Advent

“Outrageous God”

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.  I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. —Isaiah 65:17–19

I invite you to entertain for a moment this poem and let it seep into your bones, and into your heart, and into your vision. God speaks: “New heaven, new earth, new Jerusalem.” It will be a world of rejoicing when the newness comes. And you know why? Heaven and earth will rejoice because in that new world wrought by God, there will be no more the sound of weeping, no more homeless folks to moan, no more broken folk to whimper, no more terrorized folk to cry out. Heaven and earth will rejoice, because in that new world wrought by God there will be no more infant mortality, no more infants who live but a few days, and no more old people who will die too young or live too feebly or continue as a shell while the life is gone. Heaven and earth will rejoice, because in that new world wrought by God there will be no more usurpation of peoples’ homes. Those who build will stay around to inhabit, those who plant will survive to harvest and enjoy their produce. No more people being taxed out of their homes, no more losing their vulnerable homes to the right of eminent domain, no more rapacious seizure by war. When the newness comes, every person will live safely under a vine and fig tree, safe, unafraid, at peace, with no more destructive threats or competitive anxieties. Heaven and earth will rejoice, because in that new world wrought by God, God will be attentive. God will be like a mother who hears and answers in the night, knowing before we call who is needed and what is needed. And we shall never be left alone again. The poem is outrageous. The new world of God is beyond our capacity and even beyond our imagination. It does not seem possible. In our fatigue, our self-sufficiency, and our cynicism, we deeply believe that such promises could not happen here. Such newness is only poetic fantasy. In Advent, however, we receive the power of God that lies beyond us. This power is the antidote to our fatigue and cynicism. It is the gospel resolution to our spent self-sufficiency, when we are at the edge of our coping. It is the good news that will overmatch our cynicism that imagines there is no new thing that can enter our world.

Outrageous God, outflank our weary Christmas with the Advent miracle of a power that lies beyond us. May we receive this power, this new vision, which would set us free to live boldly into your dream for the world. Amen.


Throughout Advent we invite you to join us as we prayerfully prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with daily readings from Walter Brueggemann’s Devotions for Advent: Celebrating Abundance. They will be posted here daily with permission from the author, but we invite you to click the link to order your own copy.

First Sunday of Advent

“Newness Is on Its Way”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” —Luke 3:15–16

John the Baptizer bursts upon the Gospel of Luke. That is because it is Advent time. And whenever it is Advent time, we get John. It is not yet time for Jesus. This is still the time for getting ready. Getting ready time is not mainly about busy activity, entertaining, and fatigue. Getting ready time is mainly abrasive … asking, thinking, pondering, and redeciding.

“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v. 16). Now I imagine that sounds as weird to you as it does to me. We who are relatively affluent and relatively sophisticated do not talk that way and do not welcome it. In truth, however, being baptized with God’s holy spirit does not mean charismatic acting out. It means, I take it, we may be visited by a spirit of openness, generosity, energy, that “the force” may come over us, carry us to do obedient things we have not yet done, kingdom things we did not think we had in us, neighbor things from which we cringe. The whole tenor of Advent is that God may act in us, through us, beyond us, more than we imagined, because newness is on its way among us.

John is not the newness. He prepares us for the newness. And his word is that if we want to be immersed in the life-giving power of God, then we must do as John says: Share your coat and shoes and goods … Manage money in neighborly ways … Quit being the heavy in social transactions.

Who would have thought such concrete acts are the tactic whereby God’s newness will yet come! Advent is not the kind of “preparation” that involves shopping and parties and cards. Such illusions of abundance disguise the true cravings of our weary souls. Advent is preparation for the demands of newness that will break the tired patterns of fear in our lives.

It is no wonder that in the very next verses of Luke 3, King Herod arrested John, imprisoned him, and tried to silence him. For what John says was dangerous for business as usual. Herod and his company preferred to imagine that their established credentials were enough, with Abraham as their father. And anyway, they did not want newness, so they tried to stop the dangerous newness before it ever intruded into their lives.

What we know, that Herod didn’t know and never even suspected, is that John’s Advent invitation cannot be silenced or arrested. It continues to invite. And sometimes we let it come among us and transform us.

Living God, visit us in this season with your Holy Spirit that we may get carried away to do obedient things we have not yet done, kingdom things we did not think we had in us, neighbor things from which we cringe. May you act in us, through us, beyond us, more than we imagine, because newness is on its way among us. Amen.


Throughout Advent we invite you to join us as we prayerfully prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas with daily readings from Walter Brueggemann’s Devotions for Advent: Celebrating Abundance. They will be posted here daily with permission from the author, but we invite you to click the link to order your own copy.