But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Advent is about Christian hope. It is the first season of our new church year. Unlike the New Years’ Eve celebration that is often filled with optimism, and wishful thinking, Advent grounds us in the Outrageous Hope that the risen Christ, whose first coming we celebrate at Christmas, will come again. This hope has a singular effect: it gives those who follow the power to look upon the injustices and pain of this broken world without flinching and act (after all we know the end of the story).
The readings for the pre-Advent to Advent season take a menacingly dark turn as we approach the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. By first Advent we are in the thick of it. I would much rather ignore the prophet’s warnings, and simply hear only the reassuring readings. Sometimes denial is my middle name.
Advent calls us to grapple with the hard questions. Why does God allow the evil in this world? Why do good people die? Why is there injustice? We may not find answers beyond trusting the one who made us, yet we must ask the questions and face the fear (think COVID-19).
The prophet Amos was called from his flocks and fruit trees to prophesy to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Israel was experiencing a period of immense prosperity. The rich were very rich at the expense of the poor. Or as Amos put it, “You trample upon the poor, you abhor the one who speaks the truth, you hate the one who reproves in the gate.”
Amos pulls no punches. He details the consequences of their actions in the midst of exhorting them to “seek good, not evil.” It is not an easy read. Martin Luther King called us prophetically into accountability, ending with the words of Amos 5:24. That call is still resonating. Can you hear it? So what will my response be? What will yours? Will we respond in love and speak hard words with love? After all, Paul urges us to speak the truth in love. Will we attack people, not systems, and thus demonize others?
Our outrageous hope does not give us permission to stand back and do nothing, or blame the other. This hope propels us forward to act as we are able. Yet here is the sticky wicket: when I am angry, unforgiving and self-righteous, my sight is clouded and I seek retribution, not Justice. As a consequence mercy and truth die.Micah 6:8 says it best: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
This Christian Hope is not wishful thinking. It calls us to grapple with the hard things of life, the slings and arrows that the world, the flesh and the devil hurl at us. Or will we follow Gandhi and Martin Luther King’s examples and decisively act in love?