Every Valley shall be Filled
9 December 2018 – Second Sunday in Advent
The call to repentance on this day from “the voice crying in the wilderness” comes at us with a promise, too: what is amiss shall be made right. But only a terrifying power could effect the sort of change this world seeks. Who is this God who can fill every valley, dry every tear, give hope, and forgiveness? –– Melinda Quivik
As Annie Dillard reminds us: “The higher Christian churches—where, if anywhere, I belong—come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as if those people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it at any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.” (Dillard, Holy the Firm [Harper and Row, 1977], 59). –– Scott Haldeman
On the second Sunday in Advent the lectionary imparts the eschatological vision of the coming of the Messiah through the person of John the Baptist. We can find a key for understanding this figure of the forerunner in the work of anthropologist Victor W. Turner, who once wrote, “There is an affinity between the middle of sacred time and the outside of sacred space.”
The gospel reading stands on the threshold of the middle of time, as understood by Luke the evangelist. In his Theology of St. Luke, Hans Conzelmann argues that Luke regards the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to be the middle or center of time. . . The Old Testament precedes this center as a period of promise; the story of the church issues from it in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Luke focuses upon this threshold with the specificity of an historian. Adapting the style of an imperial chronicler, he locates the ministry of John the Baptist within the temporal framework of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, the terms of sundry area governors, and the roll of Israel’s temple priests.
There is a message here: the middle of time comes in the midst of history. The coming of the Messiah is an event for both the Roman Empire and Israel, in both secular and sacred history.
. . . While we must await the following Sunday to hear this message in John’s own words (vv 7–18), the gospel for this Sunday refers to John’s ministry of repentance (v 3) and unfolds its eschatological import in verses quoted from the prophet Isaiah (vv 4–6). –– Fritz West
The first verse brings the person of John the Baptist to mind, while its last verses exemplify John’s preaching tradition. The choice of this reading places John solidly in Israel’s prophetic tradition. –– Fritz West
In the introduction to the Letter to the Philippians, Paul makes mention of “the day of (Jesus) Christ” (vv 6, 10) in a pastoral vein. Anticipating this joyous end, Paul expresses confidence in God and prays for the members of the congregation in Philippi. –– Fritz West
W. Scott Haldeman is associate professor of worship at Chicago Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois.
Melinda A. Quivik, an ELCA pastor and former professor of liturgy and homiletics, is the Editor-in-Chief of Liturgy. Her most recent book is Remembering God’s Promises: A Funeral Planning Handbook (Augsburg Fortress, 2018).
Fritz West, a liturgical author and retired pastor of the United Church of Christ living in Minnesota, serves as the Presiding Member of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship Steering Committee.
Homily Service 40, no. 1 (2006): 21-30.