Not Symptom Management
Isaiah 62, Luke 1.5-25, Matthew 3.1-12*
By Rev. Michaele LaVigne
Last Thursday, I was in a car accident. I was waiting to turn left into the parking lot near Cuppies and Joe on 23rd St, when a nice bearded guy slammed into me with his Volkswagen. Neither of us had passengers with us, and no one was seriously injured. But, by the time my car was being towed and the police officer was wrapping up his report, I was feeling a pretty strong headache coming on. The next morning I went in to see my chiropractor, who began working to repair the damage done to my neck and back during those few short seconds on 23rd Street.
Monday, I went back again, feeling cheerful and headache-free. After my adjustment, however, I noticed a dull ache in my lower back that hadn’t been there before. I chided my chiropractor, telling him I hadn’t felt pain before he had tried to “fix” me. He was completely unsurprised and unruffled. His reply has been ringing in my ears ever since: “Yeah, when we get one place corrected the tension and pain usually drifts somewhere else until we get it corrected everywhere. But we’re not going for symptom management. We’re going for correction.”
Isaiah 62 is the prayer of a righteous, long-suffering prophet for his beloved and ruined city. It’s evident that he was aiming for correction, not symptom management: “I will not stop praying for her until her righteousness shines like the dawn, and her salvation blazes like a burning torch” (Isaiah 62.1). This man of God heard enough to know that this dark hour for his people is not the end of the story.
And so he prays with conviction that Jerusalem, then called “The Forsaken City” and “The Desolate Land,” will one day be known as “The Desirable Place” and “The City No Longer Forsaken.” And he prays that the people in the city, who had been in active rebellion against God, who had been trampled upon by world powers, who had seen brutality and destruction and famine – that they would be known as “The Holy People,” and “The People Redeemed by the Lord.”
John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, was also a prophet. And prophets pretty much choose correction over symptom management every time. Long before John began his ministry, in fact even before he was conceived, his father Zechariah was told that John would “prepare the people for the coming of the Lord,” and “cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly” (Luke 1.17).
So we should not be surprised when we see John preaching and find him to be doing just that. I don’t think anyone would call John’s words soothing as he calls people “brood of vipers” and talks about God burning chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3.7,12). But his goal is correction, and it is evident that the people flocking to confess their sins and be baptized found this correction to be good news.
In the second week of Advent, we focus on the peace that Christ brings. And his peace is not lip service, or flattery, or shallow friendliness that wishes we would “have a nice day.” The peace of Christ is the correction of deep, long-standing bad alignment which comes to make all things right. When we’ve lived with things not right for so long, the process of getting them right can feel disquieting and uncomfortable – maybe even downright painful once and a while. But it’s similar to the way my muscles are sore after a good workout, or my back twinges after an adjustment. It’s the feeling of knowing that things are being put to right.
So in this second week of Advent, may this be our prayer:
Jesus, I offer myself to you and ask for correction, not just symptom management. Bring your peace that makes things right in me. And as your peace takes root in me, may I bring peace to others. I pray with many saints before me –
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred,
let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
*Scripture readings for the first week of Advent from A Guide to Prayer. Copies of this devotional guide are available for $15 on Sunday evenings, or are available online.