Advent is the season when we prepare for the arrival of Christ. This arrival has a dual nature, as we celebrate his birth and Bethlehem and anticipate his eventual return. Every year it is a cycle within a cycle.
The history of injustice similarly repeats itself. Ethnic tensions, disregard and abuse of the poor, corrupted court systems, war crimes, and other ills have existed throughout all of human history. Whether or not we like to admit it, no nation or people is immune. When the formerly oppressed gain power they may take their turn to become the oppressor, and are blind to it because they still think themselves righteous.
Such was the case with Israel when farmer-turned-prophet Amos spoke to them. Israel had struggled long and hard to become a prosperous nation, but Amos told them they were no better than the wicked nations surrounding them. Amos accused the Israelites of “selling the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals […] trampling the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and pushing the afflicted out of the way.” The leadership of Israel declared themselves righteous because they followed the rules of sacrifice and ritual, but they were indifferent to God’s greater demands of love and justice.
The theme for this first week of Advent is Hope. The flip side of hope is recognition that the world can be bleak, for why would we hope if we didn’t long for things to be better? Amos reminds us part of that recognition needs to be an examination of our own hearts, actions, and inactions. It’s human nature to believe our actions are justified … and to provide justification when we aren’t sure. We don’t always want to face ourselves when we’ve been part of an injustice or we’ve been willfully ignorant about our own contribution to societal problems. If in reading that last sentence you assumed it was accusing you of something specific … it wasn’t but maybe your consciences is. Maybe start there.
The good news of Advent is that we don’t end “there.” In the weeks ahead, we will live into the promise of Hope.
Comfort: Hope is promised to everyone.
Challenge: This Advent season, begin an examination of your conscience and begin owning up to the things that get in the way of hope.
Prayer: For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good (Psalm 122:8-9)
Discussion: There are countless things to hope for. Which is most pressing to you right now?
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