Advent Afternoons: Every Year Is A Jubilee
Since retiring we often worship at the local Methodist Church, which is literally in our neighborhood. We like it: the preaching is excellent, the congregation is friendly and welcoming, and because Methodists are not compelled to wait until Christmas Eve to sing carols, we’ve been singing and studying Christmas carols this Advent. Today the chosen carol was “Angels we have heard on high.” The sermon focused on the line, “Shepherds, why this jubilee?” Why, the townspeople wondered, were these particular folks, largely unwashed and unlearned, chosen to share the good news of the birth of Jesus? What did they do to be chosen to start the party? Why indeed.
Thinking about this carol this afternoon, I am further struck that the choice of the word “jubilee” in the text of this old French song is precise and essential. Bearing such good tidings was more than ample cause to be jubilant. These shepherds were most likely neither poets nor philosophers, but they would certainly have understood the idea of Jubilee. And for them it would have been far more than a festival, party, or celebratory event. Jubilee was an extraordinarily important, though frequently ignored, concept to our ancestors in the faith. It was the time, once every 50 years, when debts were to be forgiven, slaves and prisoners freed, and lands held as collateral restored to their owners. It was a time of liberation. For folks like shepherds, living on the edge of society, such respite from the weight of their worlds would have been great news. And even if it didn’t really happen (human beings being what we are), the theme of jubilee represented hope, and the promise of better times to come.
Like Advent. Every year we return to our spiritual roots in hope that this year, when the baby arrives, we will recognize him, worship him, and imitate him. Jesus is the ultimate expression of our jubilee, but his appearance is not limited to twice a century. He is with us every day. Every moment is an example of liberation. Every year is a Jubilee year.
Perhaps that is why we continue to sing, and to hope, even when the experience of our daily lives tries to convince us that we are only dreaming. Maybe it is because deep in our hearts, we all feel the tug of the angelic message. Maybe we all want to be shepherds, doing our best to trust the assertion that God is with us, while making our way to Bethlehem to share the news with others.