In Church we say that Advent is the season to “prepare our hearts” for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. At home, the reality is, that Advent is a time to “prepare our stomachs” for food, lots and lots of food. If your household is anything like mine, you are either baking food to take somewhere, or buying food to prepare for a dinner party, or the whole family, young and old is gathered in the noisy kitchen, elbow to elbow, chopping vegetables, washing potatoes and peeling carrots. The season between Thanksgiving and New Years eve could almost be described as an Anti-Lent in terms of our intake of food and merriment. While this is not an Advent ideal, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Many of our memories and friendships are built around the preparation of meals, and we see this in the life of Jesus and his disciples as well.
Today, the second Sunday in Advent is traditionally referred to as Bible Sunday because of the emphasis on the Word of God in the Collect, Epistle & Gospel. You might be wondering what the connection is between the Word of God and food. Both are life giving and both take preparation if they are going to be truly edifying. As Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matthew 4:4, ESV) and the Psalmist says that God’s word is sweet to the taste, even sweeter than honey (Psalm 119:103). Likening God’s Word to food that we digest, our Collect says what we are to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the Scriptures, to the end that we may both have patience and comfort in God’s Word, which gives us “the blessed hope of everlasting life” in the person of Jesus Christ.
There is a lot of theology in that last sentence, which ties together God’s Word and the Christian Hope in the person of Jesus. This is another way of saying, that Jesus Christ is at the center of our faith,
at the center of the Scriptures, at the center of our Liturgy
and is at the beginning and end of the church year, as Revelation says, he is both the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus is not just the “reason for this season” but he is the reason for All Seasons. In this particular season of Advent, on this particular Sunday, we are preparing to receive and digest the Scriptures which give us Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
Two questions arise from this directive.
First, what is the hope that gives us comfort, and, second, what are best practices for reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting God’s Word?
The Christian Hope is everlasting life rooted in Jesus Christ. This includes eternal life in a renewed creation, but this does not mean we have to wait until we are dead to start living. Everlasting life begins now. While hope looks to the future, it is rooted in the past: in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As first Peter chapter one cheerfully states, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3-4, ESV)
There is also an aspect of the Christian hope that longs for justice and peace in this world and the next. If you have been following the news, there are cries all of the world for justice from people who hurt. Not just in far away places, but right here in America. Racial tensions are high, economic pressures do not seem to go away and anxiety about the future seems constant. In the midst of these tensions, we are celebrating the coming of the Prince of Peace, and this peace cannot be separated from righteousness and justice. When we see injustice in the world, we long for the day when all wrongs will be made right. The peace that comes from the hope of Jesus is best understood in the hebrew word Shalom. To experience God’s Shalom is to experience total salvation, which includes justice and peace in all areas of life.
Too often we are putting off the reality of the Christian hope for the next life, instead of incarnating it ourselves in this life. Living with hope means living with the tension of God’s eternal promises, in the midst of injustice and brokenness. Part of our mission as Christians is be agents of hope, bringing God’s Shalom to the world.
We learn to fulfill our mission of hope by regularly partaking of God’s word, as the collect says, by inwardly digesting it. We do this through simply reading the bible, or hearing it in the Liturgy, or taking part in Morning and Evening Prayer. This is not always easy, because the Word of God is bitter yet sweet. References to eating God’s words are found in Ezekiel, and in Revelation where John says, “So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” (Revelation 10:9, ESV) When God’s word confronts us of our sin, and tells us things we do not want to hear, it is bitter to the taste. But when God’s word gives us hope and new life, it is sweeter than honey.
As we approach Holy Communion today we see Jesus, the Word of God at the center. We come to the altar rail with faith and hope that the Birth of Jesus means new life. We are also confronted with our sins, which can be a bitter experience. This is why we confess our sins and commit to a new way of living each week. At the communion, we take and eat the Living Bread which came down from Heaven to give Life to the World (John 6:51). As we go out into the world this Advent season preparing our homes for all the parties and festivities of the season, let us remember to renew our commitment to prepare our hearts by incorporating the Word of God, the Scriptures into our daily lives.