Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
I encourage us all to make this Advent a time of earnest prayer and reflection. In New Testament Greek there are three different words that we translate as "anticipation" in English. One means expectation and it refers to "preparing for," something you know or believe will happen, like anticipating your child will come home after school. One means "hoping for" something you want to happen: anticipating an end to the pandemic comes to mind (or living under the thumb of Roman rule in Jerusalem). The last means "to predict or forecast" a new reality or possibility, as Isaiah to the Jewish people in exile or John in anticipation of Jesus.
All three of these meanings of anticipation are relevant and true for our Advent time – preparation, hope, and a new reality, all wrapped in the glorious gift of God to this world. What can we do to prepare our hearts this Advent? What are we hoping for? What is the new reality we wish to see? And perhaps most importantly, what are we willing to do, to give, to change, to make our preparations, our hope, and our new reality happen in our lives?
In Advent, we mostly focus on what God is preparing to do for us. What are we preparing to do for God? We look to our God to give us hope. What are we doing to be a source of hope for others? We long for a world of peace and mercy and justice, a new reality of equity and equality, harmony, and grace. But what are we actively engaged in to allow God to work through us to usher in such a reality?
The words of the prophet Isaiah are indeed a source of comfort and grace, but they can also be seen as a call to action. What has happened in the past is past. Those who have suffered and walked in darkness will see a great light and have the burden of sins and transgressions lifted off of them. A second chance is given. What will we do with our second chance, our new beginning?
I invite all of us to see Advent as a time of preparation for a lifelong journey. This is a journey of faithful and obedient service, of sacrifice and generosity to others, of spreading God’s fruits of love and joy and kindness and patience. It is a journey that will take us many places that are in need of peace and mercy and compassion and justice. What should we pack for this journey? How should we prepare? Trust in God, for God will provide, but prepare. Prepare your hearts through prayer. Prepare your minds through study and reflection on God’s Word. Prepare your spirit through song, and dance, and laughter. Prepare your soul through empathy and awareness of the suffering in our communities and world. Prepare, prepare, prepare, and experience the comfort and relief that our God is a God of second chances and new beginnings.
Gracious God clean out the dark recesses of our hearts and minds and inspire us to make ready for new life to be born within us. Help us to anticipate and prepare. Help us to fill up with light and hope and grace, that we might travel through our world as a source of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness for everyone we meet. We give you thanks. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).