Luke 4: 16-22
At this point in the story, Jesus was a relatively unknown guy. He’d just come back from forty days in the desert. We meet up with him as he walks back to Galilee into the town of Nazareth. He’s the hometown boy, little Jesus of Nazareth from down the street. He walks into the synagogue on the Sabbath – a pretty standard custom for his community. He unrolls the scroll to the prophet Isaiah and starts reading: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He rolls up the scroll and sits down. Then – get this – he preaches a one-sentence sermon that sets the whole place buzzing. He says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
They heap praise on him. He’s the hometown hero. He’s the greatest thing since unleavened bread.
The One who came to preach this word from Isaiah is the same who came to bring good news to the poor, set the oppressed and the captives free, give sight to the blind, and proclaim the year of God’s favor. His life, death, and resurrection did precisely all of these things.
And yet we are fully aware of many in our world whose stories still tell of terrible poverty, oppression, and captivity.
I’m writing the final draft of this on Wednesday, December 14th and I’m reminded so vividly looking around the news that we live in that space in-between – that we live in a world where God’s kingdom has begun and is already unfolding, but is still not yet completed.
Earlier this month, I rejoiced with my brothers and sisters as the Army Corps of Engineers denied a construction permit for a key section of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And we saw it. We got a glimpse at God’s reign already unfolding – a piece of good news to those under the heel of the Empire. It was a beautiful moment of “already!”
And then, this week, we have seen increasingly horrifying news coming from the streets of Syria. We are seeing genocide happen in real time and grieve with sighs too deep for words, “but not yet” – although we may use different language to describe it.*
We don’t have to look far to see the “not yet.” It’s everywhere. It’s there every time justice is denied because of power systems that disproportionately advantage white men. It’s there every time the church – the very body of Christ – props up systems of white supremacy. It’s there every time there is a violation against women, immigrants, refugees, those without sustainable housing or food for their families and those in power collectively shrug their shoulders. We see the “not yet” all around us.
So maybe our call this Advent is to remember and point out the ways that God is already breaking into this world. Maybe our call is to participate in that breaking in by keeping Christ in Christmas: by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, and throwing our doors wide open to the immigrant, refugee, and the stranger.
This Advent, may we be blessed in our anticipation of the coming of Jesus. And may we also be blessed with eyes to see the ways in which he’s been here the whole time.
*Earlier drafts of this reflection included such “not yet” examples as the mistrial of Michael Slager, the continued neglect of clean water for Flint, Michigan, horrifying testimony at the trial of Dylann Roof, the election of Donald Trump, the proliferation of boastful racism, misogyny, Islamophobia… let’s face it, we could go on for days.
Eric Clapp is an ELCA pastor in the lakes country of Minnesota. He’s perpetually chasing the perfect cup of coffee and is a firm believer that the one with the most books wins. Catch up with him on Twitter (@eric_clapp) or at ericclapp.com.