Finding ourselves on the waning side of the Thanksgiving celebration and on the eve of the liturgical season of Advent, we read the Ephesians text with the twin themes of “gratitude” and “anticipation” washing over us. We, like the writer of Ephesians, “do not cease to give thanks” for each expression of the church, and we often include the church in our prayers of thanksgiving in our Lord’s Day assemblies. Likewise, we anticipate afresh on this first Sunday of Advent the unity God wills in Christ Jesus - “to put all things under his feet and [make] him the head over all things for the church."
Some have called Ephesians a devotional meditation on the reconciliation God is making possible by uniting all things in Christ. That certainly should resonate with us as we recall the new identity statement of the Disciples of Christ – “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” Advent becomes a fresh opportunity for the exploration of the role that our faith plays in de-fraging the frays and foibles of our frantic affairs.
This prayer-text is a petition offered in anticipation of the kind of “wisdom” that takes notice of such unity. And it is offered in expectation of the kind of “revelation” that is attentive to the possibilities for such unity.
All of this is dependent upon a heightened capability to be aware . . . aware of what is, and aware of what more can be! The Ephesians phrase suggests that the prerequisite for this is to have “the eyes of your heart enlightened.” What a fascinating, imaginative and poetic way of stating the author’s summons to awareness. It would be like our saying: You must have the ears of your mind attuned. Or, you must have the taste buds of your spirit stimulated. Or, you must have the touch of your intuition sensitized. All our senses are marshaled in the service of discernment.
The directive to have the “eyes of our hearts enlightened” is a summons to deeper insightfulness. And it is an insightfulness that finds prophetic and messianic specificity in the Ezekiel text (34:11-24) where God is portrayed as “paying attention” – with all senses alert – to the scattered, the strayed, the injured, and the weak (verse 16). God’s remedy is the establishment of a new shepherd – David – the ancestor of the Messiah/Shepherd whose Advent we await in this season of the Church Year.
Christ Jesus is the long awaited Messiah/Shepherd whose teaching about righteousness and judgment finds its expression in the other lectionary text of Matthew 25:31-46. Having the “eyes of our hearts enlightened” we are summoned to attentiveness and life-giving ministries of care among the hungry, the thirsting, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. For as we offer mercy to any one of the least of these, we make a pleasing offering to the Messiah/Shepherd – the perfect Christmas gift, if you will.
In worship last week many sang the hymn “We Gather Together To Ask The Lord’s Blessing” (No. 276 in Chalice Hymnal). As I thought of this lectionary text from Ephesians I was stuck by these lyrics in the hymn - - - “The powers that oppress us now cease to distress us, O God be present with us, and make your will known!” That certainly must be the prayer of a fragmented world in need of the wholeness that only unity in the message and ministry of Christ can offer. May the eyes of our hearts be so enlightened. And may our Advent confidence be in the re-birth of Christ’s reign afresh – “not only in this age, but also in the age to come” (verse 21)! It is, indeed, “the hope to which he has called you” (verse 18)!