[This post is part of our series on the politics of scripture, focusing on weekly preaching texts. We also welcome commentary on sacred, classic, and profane literature, film, and artistic expression. Inquiries and submissions may be sent to email@example.com.]
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
– Jeremiah 33:14-16
It is a challenge to reflect on politics and advent together. As advent emerges and we begin to anticipate the emergence of God’s presence into the world anew, as we expect the child who taught peace and preached liberation for the poor and oppressed, I cast my eyes on the political landscape and struggle to glimpse what might be breaking forth with new life. Perhaps this is a problem with how we conceptualize the birth of Jesus, as a grand cosmic event, an episode of a preordained salvation history, the inauguration of a new kingdom of peace on earth. There is another element to this extraordinary story, its ordinariness. Jesus is born in a Galilean backwater, to an unwed teen mother, lost in a crowd of travelers. Jeremiah prophesied to his ancient community about a time when justice and righteousness will emerge into history. We still await the fulfillment of this prophesy. But refracting this vision through the circumstances of Jesus’ birth will perhaps teach us to look for this hope in unexpected places.
While Barack Obama’s second election has not carried the messianic fervor of his first, many on the left still seem rapt in advent-like anticipation of his second term, looking with hope for the visionary leadership and inauguration of justice so lacking from his first term. Jeremiah reminds me to be alert for this sort of dramatic in breaking of justice, when the promises are fulfilled. As a Christian though, I know that this emergence does not come from amongst the politically powerful nor the economically elite, but from the margins.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when the government failed to care for those in the Far Rockaway’s of New York City, community activists mobilized an impressive response. When the federal government’s TARP program failed to ease the debt of ordinary people, a group of savvy activists found a way to spur a rolling jubilee, buying up distressed debt for pennies on the dollar and forgiving the debtors. These are just two of the ways that justice and safety are being furnished today from outside our mainstream political process. Perhaps these sorts of projects are indicative of the sorts of places we ought to direct our attention to anticipate the dawning of a new world.
Jeremiah reminds us that God’s work is nothing less than the inauguration of a new world, where all live in safety and justice is the law of the land. Jesus’ birth indicated where Christians ought to be looking for that new world. Jesus was born on the margins of society. Advent ought to cultivate an eager sense of anticipation as we expect the coming of God’s new order. At the same time, advent invites us to go searching outside the halls of power for the ways God is emerging in our midst. May we all cast our gaze away from Rome and toward Bethlehem as we look for the coming of God’s reign of peace and justice.
John Allen is a Master of Divinity Student in New Testament at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a chaplain to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from Davidson College. He is an ordination candidate in the United Church of Christ Metropolitan Boston Association.