Third Advent: Joy

Isaiah’s phrase—“Strengthen the weak hands, / and make firm the feeble knees”—has become, in LDS parlance, a key expression of our obligation to serve others. In the context of Advent, the most striking aspect of Isaiah 35:1-10 is the repetition of “shall,” which directs our expectation toward the Messianic Age, when “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, / the desert shall rejoice and blossom.” As Latter-day Saints these verses often turn our minds back to the pioneers’ cultivation of the Salt Lake valley, but Advent reminds us that something of this prophecy remains unfulfilled, calling us to rejoice now in anticipation of the rejoicing then.

Indeed, today’s readings use unfulfilled prophecy precisely to keep us in joyful expectation. The psalm tells us that the Lord “gives justice to those who are oppressed, / and food to those who hunger,” that he “cares for the stranger” and “sustains the orphan and widow.” Certainly the Lord does these things, but the work is just as certainly not complete. We must yet look forward to the time when we might with finality echo the Canticle, replacing Isaiah’s future tense with the past: “He has filled the hungry with good things.” Our memories shadow forth the taste of divine nourishments past, stoking our present hunger for the banquet to come.

James urges us to wait with patience, as a farmer awaits the harvest, and yet quiet passivity seems quite contrary to the spirit of Advent. If Jesus will come regardless, why should we cultivate our expectation? Advent invites us to nourish an inner tension by expecting and urging on the coming over which we have no control. It asks us to be faithful to an event before it occurs. Even if, in the end, only Jesus can “strengthen the weak hands, / and make firm the feeble knees,” and we will be forever unable to pour sufficient love and comfort into the great gulf of human misery, these Advent scriptures suggest that we cannot properly expect his coming unless we are engaged in the work that only he can fulfill. We, like the Baptist, are called as messengers to prepare his way before him, to join with Nephi in prophesying of Christ by rejoicing in him now. As Advent corresponds with the approach of the winter solstice, so must we build our expectation of the light by wading into the darkness of those people around us for whom expectation is more than just a pleasant metaphor. For we without them cannot be saved; neither they without us. We must await him together.

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10 (NRSV), James 5:7-10 (NRSV), Matthew 11:2-11 (NRSV), Psalm 146:4-9 (NRSV); 2 Nephi 25:20-26D&C 128:17-19; Canticle 15 (Mary’s Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV))

Bible scriptures below quoted from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Collect: Father of all our joys, feed in us the spirit of expectation, that in our hunger for the coming of thy Son Jesus Christ we may remember the hungry of the earth; and grant that we might nourish each other in the bounties of thy Spirit, that we together may await the Supper of the Bridegroom with patience and rejoicing, one people as thou art one God. Amen.

For the music, nothing says Joy quite like this:

Comments

  1. Thanks for this! What a clever and useful redirection of the ‘neither we without them.. nor they without us’ passage. I love the imagery of cultivating our hunger for heavenly things so we might turn our hearts to those for whom the hunger is more than metaphor.

    It always hits me hard this time of year just how joyful the lead-up to Christmas is and how sad it is when it has come and gone. There truly is joy in anticipation. And there is real beauty in the idea of growing our collective joy through the dual process of nourishing our faith in a Savior who will one day usher in a better world even as we strive to nourish the hungry and comfort the afflicted who populate this one.

  2. This is beautiful, Jason. The collect especially. I look forward to meditating on these scriptures this week. Thank you.

  3. I want to read these prayers aloud with a congregation. So lovely. So warm and rich. Thanks, Jason.

  4. RebeccaRaye says:

    So enjoying your Advent posts.