“How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the LORD to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.”
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
In today’s Old Testament text, we see the longing of the people of God in exile for the coming of the Messiah. There is a longing for the day of peace, when “God reigns”, when the Lord comforts and redeems his people, when he bares his mighty arm, and all will see the salvation of the Lord. It is a beautiful hope. A hope which we Christians believe has been strangely fulfilled in that man from Nazareth, Jesus, the carpenter’s son.
This hope has been strangely fulfilled, because as we look around us, it is not always obvious that anything at all has changed. We, the people of God, still long for the same things the ancient Israelites longed for: peace, comfort, redemption, the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. Blessed are those, Jesus tells us, who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are those who crave, who are parched for the coming-together of God, human beings, and creation at the marriage feast of the lamb.
In our longing and hunger, we can go wrong as our second text from the New Testament reminds us. We can impatiently assume that peace, righteousness, redemption, salvation, is ours to grasp, ours to secure,and ours to impose. Like Adam and Eve grasped the fruit from the tree, the temptation is to take what can only be received as a gift. The temptation is to seek to secure this gift, to make sure it comes predictably when we want it, so that it fits into our projects. We cannot be faithful to the expectation of Advent by dabbling in futurology: magically trying to plan, organize, and ensure that the future comes as we would like it. We are called to a painful crucifixion of our plans and projects for the future.
Scripture points us to another tension that we must live within. On the one hand, we long for the coming day of peace. On the other hand, we are called not to worry, not to be anxious, and not to live in the future. What does it mean to live without worrying when our hopes for the future are crushed? When it does not seem like these messianic promises have any hope of being fulfilled? When our hunger and thirst is left without satisfaction?
We do not have any answers to these questions. We just have a promise: Your heavenly Father knows your need and will care for you. We cannot evade these questions by escaping into the future: Instead, we are called into the present with the promise that we will receive our daily bread.
We cannot faithfully love and suffer the reality that is with us here and now by endlessly differing to the future, living in the future, planning for the future: If only I had this, then I could be faithful. If only that person would change, then I could love them. If only this suffering were taken from me, then I could enjoy life. If only this task were easier, then I would do my task well.
The way of Jesus does not call us to futurology. The way of Jesus calls us simply to enter deeply, profoundly, into the reality here and now. The way of Jesus calls us into relationship with the people and places that are in front of us. The way of Jesus calls us to suffer our reality, without anxiety, but with hope for the coming of the Messiah.
And here, in this flickering eternity of the advent candle, the promise is fulfilled:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.
The featured image is called Waiting by Caitlen Connolly.