December 4, 2016, 2nd Sunday of Advent YR A

December 4, 2016
2nd Sunday of Advent YR A
The Rev. Deacon Anne Abdy


“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse.”[1] Isaiah 11:1

The church liturgical calendar prepares us in the Advent season for the coming of Christ. Advent 1 reminds the Christian community that with Jesus’ return, lives are changed. Fr. Brent reminded us last week that Christianity is a political religion, and as Christians we must both address the evil that stains the world and build up the Kingdom of God here on earth by living into the commandments and by loving one another.

Today is Advent 2. We are half-way through the Advent season. We are half-way to the birth of the Christ child. What does it mean to be half-way? I am sure every parent on a road trip has heard the following cry from the back seat of the SUV: “Are we there yet?”  This cry points us in the direction of our destination:  Christmas Day.

This cry also reminds me of the quaint English town-crier who bellows out important news from a scroll. The news, both good and bad, is spread across the land. This is where the saying “Don’t shoot the Messenger” comes from as he was protected by the monarch. He delivered the king’s news. Well, the Bible has it’s own town-crier. He is John, the Baptist. And he spreads the Good News too.

Isaiah, some 800 years before prophesied that “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse” (v. 11:1). This is confirmed in the New Testament reading when Paul writes to the Romans: “whatever was written in the former days was written for our instructions, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” (v. 15:4). Clearly the Jews have been waiting for a very long time. John, the Baptist, arrives on the scene beginning his monologue with the words: “in those times.” These three words are the first reference in the New Testament of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It has been a long, long wait and we are only half-way through Advent season of preparation.

“Are we there yet?”

Many times, I notice that I am restless during this season. In the dark mornings I try to settle my mind and heart but I have an inner urgency to be patient and more reflective. To be quiet and listen. This preparation is made all the more difficult with the commercialization of the season, and I find myself trolling social media sites because as a nation we are also in a parallel waiting period—a political waiting period.

A friend of mine, the Reverend R. J. Powell[2], reflected on Archbishop Rowan Williams’ recent comparison of world political events to Europe of the 1930s. R. J. wrote: “I can’t help myself from praying. It’s time to wake up people! Church, now is the time to put aside out internal squabbles and attend to more weighter matters.” I wonder if these thoughts may be somehow similar to what John, the Baptist, thought so many years ago as he tried to get the attention of his world to “sit up, look up, and listen.” John’s words did not predict a Holocaust but he does confront the Pharisees and the Sadducees on their on their observance of Torah Law. John is the counterpoint to the establishment.

This is kind of what happened with our unconventional election season in the person of Donald Trump. Ordinary citizens, news media outlets, politicians, maybe even you, and certainly me, took notice. Both John and Mr. Trump’s election are examples of the  precursors to the change agents that are to come in the form of Jesus and Presidential duties. But with the President-Elect, we do not know how he will govern. We cannot predict the future. The difference between John and the Donald is this: John knows how the story ends. He shouts: “I might baptize with water, but the one who is to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt. 3:11). John confirms that the “shoot” is Jesus because he has already experienced the Christ.

Remember Luke’s visitation story of Mary visiting a sixth month pregnant Anna (v.26). In verse 41, we read: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb.” It is a greeting between cousins and Anna filled with the Holy Spirit exclaims: “Why has the Mother of my Lord come to me?” The unborn Christ-Child is given the designated title of Lord. John knows Jesus is Lord because hearing develops around the 16th week in utero as the baby begins to hear sounds of the mother.  Thus, all the more reason to shout about it and engage corrective action through repentance and baptism. John gets it and he wants us to get it too.

As John calls for change, again in this parallel universe, our country is at a change point too. I don’t know what changes will happen, but change will happen. But I do know undergoing change is very unsettling, uncomfortable, and many times, very painful. So rightly so, we all come to this sacred place maybe a little more unsettled, anxious, and worried about our responsibilities, our stuff of life, and what the future holds. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As much as I resist to being open-minded, to being flexible, or that phrase “It is what it is”, I just don’t like change. There is something comforting about consistency and the familiar. But change has many positive qualities too. Change is healing. Change transforms us into the people of God that the Creator made and change continues to mold us.

In South Africa, there is a region called Namaqualand. It is a desert and very dry. When the rains come, the landscape is transformed into fields upon fields of different colored daisies as far as the eye can see. Each year the Nama people wait in anticipation for this event to happen, and each year the landscape does not disappoint.

So, here we wait. Just as the Nama people wait for the daisies to appear, we wait in anticipation for the joyous birth of the Christ-Child. And as we wait, we prepare our bodies, our hearts and minds, to respond and to reach out and touch to the extended hand of the Holy Child laying in the manger.

So, how can we wait patiently in this uncertain time? For me, I take comfort in reading the Daily Office and for praying for our nation and asking for guidance in the way of justice and truth.” Again, paraphrasing Archbishop Williams, who said: “You are morally responsible for your position and subsequent action be it non-violence, armed struggle, or simple “keeping your head down.” Are you secure enough about your position to accept the moral consequences?”[3]

So I have to ask myself, Is there a way I can be guided to be the example of justice and truth? Is there one action I can do that will render justice? Is it offering forgiveness and the giving of the olive branch of peace to someone estranged? Is it an act of kindness? Can I say a word that brings comfort in this time of uncertainly? Am I willing to change someone’s world for a moment?

Another way I prepare myself, especially when I am faced with fear or doubt, is that I intentionally breathe. I find my breathing becomes shallow when I am stressed.

Sometimes I actually hold my breath and forget to breathe. When I intentionally breathe my deep belly breaths remind me that I can let go of the tension and fear, and I can welcome in joy and love that God breathed into me at my birth. These Yahweh breaths give me hope and ground me in the certainty that the Messiah will come.

Are we there yet? Not yet, but almost.

Despite the uncertainty of not knowing—John’s proclamation while making our relationship right with God, it is also a message of hope as we await the joy of a innocent babe born because God chose to become human.

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse.”


[1]    All scripture references are from the NRSV translation

[2]    Reverend R.J. Powell reflections on the  Rowan Williams, “Bonhoeffer Revisited: From Christology to Politics” (video of lecture, Sewanee: The University of the South, Sewanee, TN, September 29, 2016 and September 30, 2016), accessed December 4, 2016,

[3]    Reverend R.J. Powell reflections on the  Rowan Williams, “Bonhoeffer Revisited: From Christology to Politics” (video of lecture, Sewanee: The University of the South, Sewanee, TN, September 29, 2016 and September 30, 2016), accessed December 4, 2016,