Neither Safe Nor Private
From time to time people ask me for recommendations for daily devotions. This is always tricky, because I don’t think there’s a “one size fits all” devotional resource; it really depends on what you’re looking for and what speaks to you. In the end, the same advice I once heard for picking a biblical translation is true for devotions: the best one is the one you’ll read.
But for what it’s worth, I’ve just begun using a new collection of daily readings and reflections from Walter Brueggemann, Gift and Task. He follows the daily office for Year 2 in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and so the first entry was for this past Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent. Old Testament scholar that he is, he focused on the reading from the opening chapters of Amos, when the prophet describes, in no uncertain terms, the depth of corruption and scandal in Israel and its neighbors that will lead to their destruction:
6 Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
7 they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
and push the afflicted out of the way;
Like so many of the prophetic words uttered in the Old Testament (not to mention those of Jesus), the charge against God’s people is described in economic terms: they “trample on the head of the poor.” Israel’s spiritual failures have resulted in economic, political and social failures. All of which make for an environment where spiritual renewal is difficult--it's a vicious cycle. They do not care for the vulnerable among them; they do not deal justly with each other; they make war with their neighbors; they give in to their baser instincts of greed and selfishness.
As we noted this past Sunday with the gospel lesson from Mark, these are jarring words to begin a new church year! And yet they remind us the call of God has to do firstly with our lives in the here and now and the world we create together. Are we caring for one another? Are we making sure that all everyone has enough? Are we honoring the image of God in all people? In Brueggemann's words: Such texts assure that our preparation for Christmas is not a safe, private, or even familial enterprise but is preoccupied with great public issues of war and peace and issues of economic justice that concern the worth and bodily wellbeing of human persons. Our Advent preparations may invite us to consider the ways in which we ourselves are complicit in the deep inhumanity of our current world.
As we said on Sunday, when kept well, it Advent should be a time of preparation not simply for Christmas, but for our Christian journey as a whole. Hope, peace, joy, and love are necessary not just for these four weeks, but for all 52. And like the Christmas Brueggemann imagines, the Christian life, lived rightly, is neither safe, nor private.
Add that to advice above: a good devotional will remind you of these things.