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|Advent 2017 Foreword
I am regularly astonished by the power and force of the articles that editor Erskine Clarke has been able to recruit for the Journal. This Advent issue is no exception to my regular astonishment. These several writers do not linger at all over the manger of Christmas or the cuteness of the coming baby or even the perniciousness of the commercialism of the season. They move constantly and directly to the x-rated drama of Advent that deals with the threat of John the Baptizer to the reality of hegemonic imperialism and the anticipation of Jesus who will walk among folk in transformative and demanding ways.
In this regard these preachers are not unlike Luke as he offers an Advent-like run-up to his Bethlehem narrative. Before he arrives at Bethlehem in his telling, we are put on notice by Mary that the Coming One will cause big-time upheaval. Luke does not rush to Bethlehem but lingers in Advent, the season of John. John has a reputation for ﬁerceness, but there is also this: “With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). The Advent season is ﬁlled with an Elijah-like impulse that concerns unabashed truth-telling. But it also concerns turned hearts. Luke’s statement is a reiteration of Malachi’s anticipation that concludes the Christian Old Testament: “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
It is all about turned hearts! Malachi anticipates reconciliation between parents and children. Luke anticipates reconciliation of the recalcitrant to the wisdom of the righteous, that is, to the way of Torah. Both anticipations speak to a society that is torn asunder by hostility and alienation, perhaps not unlike our own society. If we riff on these two anticipations, we may come to the turning of the hearts of conservatives and liberals without specifying who is “disobedient.” A bit further out, perhaps even turned hearts among hostile Christians, Jews, and Muslims. John is the opening of new possibility for hard-hearted folk who know too much and have matters all settled in ways that preclude alternative.
Consider our inventory of expositions. Frederick Schmidt, in a vigorous piece of research, urges a refocus on the reality of God in this season. Amy McCullough reminds that this is the “season of light” and asks what it means to be the light. My piece on “The Two Great Commandments” is a counterpoint to the wondrous piece by Tom Long. Tom’s article is notable because he speciﬁes “breakthroughs” that are marked by concreteness that eschews the temptation to abstraction.
Erin Keys takes a hard look at our several divisive sectarianisms and reminds us that all belong to Christ and he to none of us. Shannon Kirschner reads the parable as a mandate to “speak up,” and she does on behalf of women and girls amid the “idol of maleness.” Emily Rose Proctor offers a parable on a parable about the wonder of ﬁnding a treasure that has been lost. Chris Currie, in this season of John the Baptizer, attests the decisive reality of baptism and its demanding offer of a different way of life.
This issue concludes with two of our regular features. Ben Sparks shares with us Wiman’s poetic
meditation on the grounding of faith in the face of horror. Brian Coulter contextualizes ministry in South Carolina horse country.
The work of Advent is based on the conviction that we are not locked in to the despair of our culture. Newness is “at hand” of an elemental kind. It issues in turned hearts restored relationships, and reviviﬁed social structures and policies What a glorious time to be a preacher!