Growing up in South Africa there was a custom among many of the African cultures to have a Praise Singer whenever a dignitary, king or special guest was going to be present. The Praise Singer would arrive at the venue ahead of the dignitary and address the crowd in a loud projected voice. He or she would proclaim to the crowd gathered all the great events and achievements that the dignitary had done. They would tell the story of how this person that is about to arrive had become great and the person they are today. In many ways this would get people warmed up and excited about the king or dignitary that was about to arrive.
Advent is one of my favorite seasons. There is an increased excitement in the air as plans and events unfold all leading up to Christmas. It is easy, and very tempting to rush through Advent and focus primarily on Christmas, the main event. The problem with that is we do actually miss something quite special and unique about this time of year. Our readings, especially ones used for Advent Lessons and Carols, serve to help anchor us in this season of Advent.
The prophets that we read during the next four weeks capture just how profound this time of year is and what is about to happen in the world. When we listen carefully to these readings we can hear the prophets yearning and calling for something more. It is Isaiah, for me, who sets the stage for Advent most clearly. We hear these words at the beginning of Isaiah, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Is. 2: 1-5). Then again later we read, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down [and] For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth . . .” (Is 64: 1; Is 65: 17). Like most prophets, Isaiah sees something that others don’t. He sees and understands that God is about to do something new. Isaiah is writing during a time of great political and social upheaval. People are at war and Kingdoms are falling as fast as they are rising. We hear in Isaiah’s voice a yearning for the civil volatility to stop and for freedom and peace to be restored. There is a cry that the People of God are no longer going to be in exile and under oppression. Within this yearning there is also a note of hope for the People of God. Change is in the air, and something more powerful than any earthly power is about to make itself known. God is coming and God is going to turn the world upside down. So Isaiah and the prophets cannot help themselves but go and proclaim this news, this hope for all the world to hear. In this way we see Isaiah and the prophets act as the Praise Singers for God. God is coming and the world needs to get ready.
The prophets through the yearning of their cry help get us, the world, warmed up and excited for a new day, a new heaven and a new earth. No one knows yet when this new day or heave will be. No one knows how this new Kingdom will make itself known. God, the God of surprise and awe has something quite unexpected in store. The prophets sing God’s praises and begin to tell the story of how God comes into the world to be with us. This is a most profound and life changing story.
Advent is the story of liberation and yearning for something more. This is a ‘thin space’ and time where Heaven and Earth come so close that they almost touch. Advent is Incarnation time when the world gets ready to be greeted by God who comes to earth to be with us; to take on human form and live and breathe as you and I do. Are you ready? Are you ready for something more? Are you ready for God to come into this world, our life and your life? The prophets have begun the story once again, ready or not, God is coming!