Scripture for Sunday: Joel 2:12-13, 28-29
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
Notes on The Text:
You may wonder about the choice of Joel for the season of Advent, but I personally find it very appropriate for this time because it is about hope and peace in a bleak time. Peace seems illusive in our world today. As followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we are called to be peacemakers in the world. Yet, the task seems overwhelming because conflict seems to be inevitable and people have a hard time resolving it peacefully. That was the challenge before the prophet Joel. Not much is known about the prophet Joel, except that he was the son of Pethuel and that he lived in Judah (Southern Kingdom) most likely during the Persian period of Jewish history (539-331 BCE) even though there is debate about the dates. The name Joel means “Yahweh is God.” He was very familiar with the temple in Jerusalem and was an advocate for worship as a way to reform people. Joel used a locusts’ plague that ravished his country as a tool to help his people repent and return to God. He believed that it was a sign from God that they needed to reform their ways. The book of Joel models a faithful response to uncertainty, fear, and chaos. It is a call for community for worship, prayer, fasting, and turning with our whole heart to God.
We don’t really know if the plague of locusts which Joel used in his message was literal or a metaphorical (invading army). If it was literal, it would have been a natural disaster of great magnitude. If it was metaphorical, it would have been a reference to military disaster. The situation seemed hopeless. The prophet used the plague to sound the alarm about the injustices among the people and to highlight the need for them to repent and return to the ways of God by practicing compassion and justice in the land. Joel then went on to warn them that their calamities would only increase if they did not change their ways. Hebrew prophets understood that such calamities were the way God set up the world. These are the laws of the universe. Greed and violence only lead to injustice and misery. Those who want to do well in life, must align themselves with Gods’ vision for the world of nonviolence and justice. Joel knew the scriptures and the stories of other prophets where people were warned but didn’t fully repent. He could have just given up on this prospect of peace and justice. Yet, instead of succumbing to discouragement and fear, the prophet spoke of an amazing vision of hope. The past was not going to dictate the future. Because of God’s grace and love, the people were going to receive the full power of God’s Spirit so that everyone among them would be able to have dreams and visions of a different future. The turn in the story is unexpected and the vision is so powerful that the people of God held on to it for a long time and every time they faced great danger, loss, or pain, they recalled that the Spirit of God was just about to do something new. These words became motivators for them to change their lives and ways and to work for a different future. They inspired a countless number of people to start over again! In fact, in the book of Acts in the story of Pentecost we are told that Peter saw the coming of the Holy Spirit on the eleven disciples as a fulfillment of that vision by Joel. Think of the context of that story. The disciples of Jesus were huddled together in fear without a certain future. They had lost their leader and in the midst of that uncertainty, they received the gift of the Spirit. That gift was not like magic to make everything better and where they lived happily ever after! Instead it was a force of life that was unleashed within them to join the work of Christ in the world with boldness and faith.
This message of hope for us today is that working for peace in the world is not dependent on the patterns of the past. Old hostilities, injustices, and fears don’t have to limit our future. Working for peace is about the ability to open our lives to the power of God to help us dream new dreams and to see new visions and possibilities for our lives and for our world. We could let the locusts of our lives and of our world dim our ability to see a new future, or we could let go and follow the star to Bethlehem where new hope is born through a fragile gift of love in a humble manger. We could look at the hurts of the past and the obstacles ahead or we could allow God to dream in and through us a new world of God’s own making. When I find myself discouraged and disheartened by images like this one of Syrian refugees, I think of Jesus and how he was born into conditions not much better than these. And so I pray for the outpouring of God’s Spirit into all human hearts so that we may continue to work for peace and justice in the world.
In his book, Radical Grace, Richard Rohr writes, “When you no longer expect something more from life, you are for all practical purposes an atheist. When you are no longer open to do something new, to see and feel in new ways about old things, you might as well hang it up. There always is more of the Spirit for you to receive, or you would not be sustained another moment. The experience of the Spirit is an undeserved, unmerited becoming, a new whole greater than the sum of all the parts. It draws us out and beyond ourselves in spite of ourselves. It is radical grace. To walk in the Spirit is to allow yourself to be grabbed by God and taken into a much larger world of meaning.”
Christmas Is for Healing by Macrina Wiederkehr:
Loving you, of course
I am not at all interested in how much money
you are spending on Christmas gifts this year
but rather, in how much blood, sweat, and tears
you are shedding
to make Christ a vital part of your life
for you and I will never be able to erase
the fact that he came:
to touch lives–to break bread
to heal hurt–to forgive sins
to wash feet–to calm seas
to walk on water–to give us the Spirit
and to care immensely
Yes, to care enough
to be born in our Bethlehem
to live in our land, and weep over our cities
and die and rise again.
So now it’s Christmas
and I am not sure what part of you is crippled
or where you need to feel God’s saving power
but with everything in me
I believe that Christmas is for healing
And he came to heal.
So if you can trust Jesus enough to
walk out on the waters of getting involved,
of washing feet and anointing people,
of breaking bread and working miracles,
I am almost sure his saving presence
will touch those blind and crippled parts of your life
and Christmas will come to you.
More than anything else
I want to give you Christmas this year
It’s a gift, an offer
You can take it if you like
but I can’t really give it to you
like a wrapped up package.
It is deeper than that,
It is warmer, brighter, holier.
It is more personal.
Christmas is more challenging
than a wrapped up package.
It is an offer
It is a mystery
It is birth
It is hope.
It is Christmas and
God can never be born enough…
This offer will not be canceled in case of snow!