postmodern preaching

Third Sunday of Advent Year B

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11

After decades of intimidation, war and finally the total destruction of Jerusalem and then captivity by the Babylonians, every aspect of the personal and social life of God’s people is in shambles.  The people of God are demoralized and resigned to their hopeless circumstances.  But, the preacher feels called by the Lord God to make a startling promise: in short, God will reverse every hopeless aspect of their lives.  Re-energized, he continues, the people of God will re-build out of the ruins in which they now live the beloved City of Jerusalem and many of the lesser cities, too.  These people of despair will, in the future, come to be known as “the planting of the Lord.”  Why will God do these things?  “For I the Lord love justice….”  As reliably as the garden returning after a barren season, “the Lord will cause righteousness to spring up….”   [The Book of Isaiah is cited in the Christian scriptures more than any other book from the Hebrew scriptures than the Psalms.]

  • Psalm 126

The psalmist invokes that time when Jerusalem will be restored.  He uses everyday experiences to confirm the promise of renewal and new life: people who laugh uncontrollably when their fondest dream came true; rivers flowing again after drought.  As reliably as the cycles of nature, “those who sow in tears/in glad song will reap.”

  • I Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Rejoice, pray, give thanks, Paul exhorts.  Do not restrict the Spirit of God when God does the unexpected.

  • John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Because the times for the writer of the Gospel of John is quite different than the synoptic gospels, his treatment of the important historical figure of John the Baptizer is distinctive.  Here the significance of John the Baptizer is parsed carefully.  John is not the Messiah.  Nor is he even the prophet expected before the Messiah, Elijah.  He is not any of the other prophets.  His is “the voice” posited by Isaiah, “crying in the wilderness.”  His cry is singular:  to alert any who will listen that “among you is the Messiah.”


These readings and gospel direct our attention not to anticipation for the birth of Jesus, but to the actualization of what John Caputo calls, “Messianic time.”  In his self-described “Michelin’s guide to Jacques Derrida,”  The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida, Caputo cites “Messiah” or its derivatives on 89 of its 339 pages.  The stakes for “Messianic time” are high.  Caputo writes:

“Messianic time is prophetic time, the time to come, that disturbs the present with the call for justice, which calls the present beyond… itself.  For the most unjust thing of all would be to close off the future by saying that justice is present, that the present time is just…”  (p. 81.  O

On the same page but just before this excerpt Caputo has written:

Justice means doing justice, doing the truth… in order that he might come, in order to bring about messianic time, the epoche of the Messiah.”

The gospel writer’s John the Baptizer has dared to announce: “The Messiah is already among you.”  The announcement sets the time of justice in motion.  Isaiah declares that at precisely the  time when God’s people have become resigned to the impossibility of justice, the preacher must announce/remind/initiate/allow/permit/incite a new era, God’s time of justice.  Why?  Because the Lord “loves justice.” 

Caputo concludes:

“…justice is precisely unseeable, and unforeseeable….”  “Justice does not reside high above but settles into the flesh of the least among us, pitching its tent among us.  Justice is not above us but urgently required here and now, even as it is something you press forward to with passion, with prophetic and messianic fire… with a fiercely burning ruah, something with which you must keep faith, the passion of faith….” (p. 338)

Paul warns not to restrict the Spirit.  Let it flow where it will.  Although we never know exactly when or where or how God’s justice will re-assert itself, (just as we never know precisely when it will rain), we announce and work for God’s justice, taking for granted that the parched river bed will once again babble and gush with water. 

Be alert for “messianic time.” Live by “messianic time.”  “The Messiah is already among you.”




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