Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
Whether the plague of locusts that form the storyline of the prophecy of Joel are symbolic or actual does not matter. What matters is that in times of communal or individual crisis we deepen our connection to God and orientate ourselves towards hope. The human experience encompasses tragedy and celebration, sadness and joy, pain and well-being. The challenge that Joel sets us is to choose the positive over the negative. Our 21 st century economic and political systems are predicated on scarcity. We have unconsciously adopted the same limitations in all our relationships while the Biblical injunction is to celebrate generous abundance. The advent journey is the anticipation of a new future, one in which darkness will give way to light and a birth will surprise and delight. We journey from fear to hope. Yes there are challenges and disappointments, life isn’t always fair but change is possible.
The catalyst for change is revealed in the promise of God to ‘pour out my spirit on all flesh’. A key passage in the Pentecost sermon this divine initiative is a startling indicator of a universal embrace.
The barriers of gender, age, slavery and freedom that were normative and almost impenetrable in the Jerusalem society of Joel are swept aside. We are no longer defined by the labels or limits others impose upon us. The gift of God is no longer restricted to the pious, or the religious, to priest or regular attender but even to those who only turn up once a year for the carol service. The Hebrew word ‘ruach’ is translated here as ‘spirit’ but elsewhere rendered as ‘wind’. We are to understand that what is promised is power, like a wind that can destroy or move the immovable. Now the truly radical insight of Joel and Pentecost is evident; power will no longer rest with the elite and the privileged but with the many and the ordinary. And isn’t that the lesson of incarnation? The storyline of Advent is the birth of a baby in whom rests the power to change the world and us with it. Given the power how will we use it?
Generous God, As you have empowered me, so help me to choose hope over despair.
When life is hard and the way uncertain, let me feel your strong embrace.
When injustice is denied to others, give me courage to speak out. When I doubt my own worth, remind me that I am yours. Amen.
The Rev’d David Grosch-Miller is a member of St. George’s Morpeth and Immediate Past Moderator of General Assembly