The Second Sunday of Advent (Year A), 8 December 2019

December 8, 2019 | by Ron Allen

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12

Many people in the pews continue to think of Advent as a season of preparation for Christmas. And, increasingly in North American Eurocentrics cultures, Christmas is associated with a warm family gathering, the tree aglow in the corner, the fire cracking in the family room, and the generations gathered around a table festooned with a special table cloth and Christmas china, the table alight with candles, people dressed in red and green sweaters, and laughter galore. Mom and Dad gently pressure adult children into attending the Christmas Eve service, even if it means keeping the grandchildren up past their bedtimes. And the anxiety of wondering “What can I possible get for that daughter-in-law” fades in the fun of opening presents. Someone may remember to say a prayer of thanksgiving over the meal.

Whereas I once looked at this side of Christmas with gentle homiletical cynicism, I am more patient these days when cynicism seems to occupy so much of my mental world as I look at events in our national life, as well as in so many other arenas. In the midst of so many disturbing things, a conventional middle-class Christmas can be a moment of connecting with important people in ways that can be truly sustaining.

To be sure, Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas. Christmas, however, is not the end, but points to God working towards the Second Advent and the final and full coming of the Realm of God with its qualities of love, justice, mutual support, freedom, dignity, abundance and peace (shalom). While many Christians do expect a literal second coming which includes the dissolution of the present world and the creation of a new one, these comments share the perspective of Christians do not think that such a singular event is likely, but, instead, think of God as constantly present, ever inviting human beings and elements of nature towards the same qualities of relationship that define the Realm of God.

From the latter point of view, Advent is still a season of preparation in the sense of the community refreshing its awareness of the signs of the divine presence and purposes and considering how to respond appropriately. I do not see myself preparing for a singular event but considering things that help me recognize the divine leading and doing the things that will help sustain me over a lifetime of invitations and responses.

The readings for today help answer the question, “How do we prepare?” Or, as I might phrase it in light of the preceding paragraph, “What do we need to do to help recognize and respond to God’s initiatives?” While the readings are not organically related according to theological world view, historical circumstance, or literary relationship, each helps us consider a different aspect of preparation. A preacher might focus on one reading and invite the congregation towards preparation in the ways it suggests. A preacher could see these lessons working together in a single sermon by noting that the main invitation of the Gospel is to repent and then to consider how other passages suggest ways to repent.

Matthew 3:1-12

Just as many in the congregation were likely uncertain why the preacher turned to Matthew 24:36-44 with its direct references to the second coming on the First Sunday of Advent, so many may be puzzled about the turn to John the Baptist on the second Sunday of Advent. When the mindset is preparing to welcome the holy babe, the community may be puzzled by the appearance of this figure wearing camel’s hair, eating locusts and wild honey, preaching in the wilderness, “Repent!” In a teaching moment in connection with the reading of the Scripture, or in the sermon itself, the preacher may want to explain why we take up John the Baptist with the Christmas tree in the chancel, the empty creche in front of the Sacred Table, and the smell of greenery in the air.

Matthew uses the figure of John the Baptist in multiple ways. John is preaching in the wilderness. The wilderness played powerful roles in Jewish literature. It had an element of chaos; wilderness has a wild, untamed, primitive quality. In the semi-arid wilderness in which John preached, life hung on by a slender thread even with the presence of the Jordan. The wilderness was a place of threat. Yet it was also a place where—in the very teeth of threat—God’s providence was most manifest, as in the manna in the wilderness wanderings. Life in the wilderness often had a liminal quality. The language of “wilderness” sometimes represented the experience of the community even when living in urban settings when their world was shot through with uncertainty and threat.

The preacher might well call attention to the “wilderness” qualities of aspects of life in the early twenty-first century. Though my spouse and I live in the center of a city, we feel multiple kinds of uncertainty and threat, kin to the wilderness.

Some end-time groups believed that God would begin to manifest the changing of the ages in the wilderness. It is as if the end-time re-creation goes back to a situation similar to the beginning time, when things were still not fully formed. The gospel writers believed that John played a special role in this transformation. Matthew has John quote Isaiah 40:3 to authorize John as “the voice of the one crying out . . . “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The point is that John’s ministry indicates that the time is almost at hand, and people need to get ready.

John’s dress and diet seem bizarre to many contemporary folks, but Matthew’s audience would immediately have recognized its meaning A hairy cloak was typical prophetic dress (2 Kgs 1:8; Zech 13:4). Many people in the wilderness ate locusts. A preacher could have a lot of fun with this description while contemplating qualities of dress and other things that identify prophetic voices today. What might the congregation recognize as equivalents of camel’s hair, as well as eating locusts and wild honey?

As we noted in the introductory remarks for this week (above), John indicates that repentance is the means to prepare. This is another concept which the preacher may need to explain rather fully since, in some Christian practice today, repentance is reduced to feeling badly (perhaps feeling guilty) about personal moral indiscretion. In end-time perspective, repentance is turning away from the old age and turning towards the new. Repentance involves turning away from things like idolatry, self-absorption, injustice, exploitation, greed, arbitrary social hierarchy, violence, and death, and turning towards God, love, self-giving for the good of community, mutuality, justice, access to material resources, dignity, freedom, respect, peace (shalom), and life.

A preacher might explore systemic connections between many of the attitudes and behaviors and organizations that contribute to wilderness dimensions of the early twenty-first century. Repentance is not just a matter of personal decision but involves community re-thinking.

Playing on the motif of Advent as preparation for Christmas, a sermon might consider repentance as Christmas gift. What acts of repentance might the congregation gift-wrap as a present to God and the world?

John was immersing in the Jordon. People come into the water confessing their sins, that is, they make a public accountability of their repentance. Immersion, practiced by some end-time communities, was likely adapted from the fact that the Jewish community immersed gentiles as a part of initiation into Judaism, with, perhaps, some influence from other Jewish water rites (such as the mikveh and other cleansing rites). In end-time perception, immersion is a kind of symbolic boundary between the ages. Those who are immersed leave the force-field of the old creation and become a part of a community awaiting a new creation. Being immersed was not just a matter of individual piety. It was committing oneself to create as much distance as possible from the attitudes and actions of the present age and to look towards the world to come.

Matthew 3:7-10 comes to the preacher with both a great caution and a great opportunity. The great caution comes from something that now seems obvious to many scholars, namely that Matthew does not recall the Pharisees (and many other Jewish leaders) in ways that were historically accurate but portrays the Pharisees and others in caricature in order to discredit them. (This theme is developed in more detail in “The Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew in Year A.”) The preacher needs to criticize that aspect of the picture of the Pharisees in this paragraph.

At the same time, Matthew points to an issue that bedevils Christians in every age, including today. The Gospel Writer implies that the Pharisees and Sadducees assume that their religious pedigree and their broader place in the old age have already assured their security in this world and the next. Indeed, by calling them a “brood of vipers” Matthew here depicts the Pharisees and the Sadducees as children of the snake of Genesis 3, who, for end-time theologians, was Satan. They are thus operating under the aegis of the old age in which the abusive established social hierarchy established a false sense of security for those at the top. Matthew’s John stresses that they must repent in order to be part of the new world.

If the preacher can adequately criticize Matthew’s picture of the Pharisees and Sadducees (per above), the preacher might show how some contemporary Christians—as both individuals and as religious communities—are actually aligned with the values and practices of the old age. Indeed, some churches essentially function as priests of the existing order, passing the hand of blessing over various violations of God’s purposes, such as sexism, racism, economic exploitation, homophobia.

If established religious communities linked into the old age do not repent, “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Sarah and Abraham.” God will keep God’s promising to the ancestral couple by creating a community of descendants, but it will be a community constituted by repentance rather than DNA.

End-time theology assumes a distinct separation between the ages and between those who are affiliated with each age. According to vs. 10, the violent image of the axe laid to the root of the tree indicates that the process of separation is already under way and will result in the trees that do not bear good fruit being thrown into the view. In other words, the non-repentant will be condemned.

The passage concludes on an electric end-time note. John immerses with water as part of the process of repentance. But Jesus—the more powerful one—coming to immerse with fire, a direct reference to final judgment. John prepares people for the judgment by pointing to repentance. Jesus carries out the judgment in a way reminiscent of the separation of wheat and chaff. Intensifying the language condemnation in vs. 10, the passage concludes by indicating that those complicit with the old age “will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Many scholars contend that the followers of John the Baptist and the followers of Jesus disputed with one another as to which leader had greater authority. Matthew—like Luke and John—seeks to settle this dispute by portraying John as having an important but secondary role to that of Jesus. The church faces a similar issue today: how can we tell which interpretations of God’s purposes are more and less authoritative? The choice between John the Baptist and Jesus has been supplanted, of course, by much more far ranging options both within the Christian community and beyond. A pastor might use this historical debate as an opportunity to wrestle with the congregation on the question of how we distinguish more and less authoritative leaders in the church and in the world today. The discussion could go beyond leaders per se to embrace how we distinguish more and less promising ideas and social movements.

Matthew gives an end-time interpretation to Malachi 3:1 and 4:5 where the earlier prophet anticipates the return of Elijah before “the great and terrible day of the Lord.” Matthew sees John as the returning Elijah (Matt 11:14), thus confirming from another angle both the fact that the apocalyptic moment is arriving and the superiority of Jesus.

Much of what I have said about John’s message of pointing to the new Realm, the meaning of immersion and becoming a part of a community awaiting the Realm is similar to similar themes in the ministry of Jesus. However, there are two differences. One is that John simply points to the coming of the new world whereas Matthew interprets Jesus as an active agent in the process of transformation. Second is an issue of timing. Matthew sees John living immediately prior to the new creation, but still locked into the old one. Through Jesus, aspects of the new world have already begun to appear in the midst of the old. For Matthew, the transformation began with the birth of Jesus, assumed a more dramatic presence with Jesus’ immersion, and would come to completion with Jesus’ return.

Hermeneutically speaking, the emphasis on repentance is always in theological season. I regard the text as an invitation or lure to repent. A preacher needs only listen to the latest news report on NPR and bring up the most recent news bulletin on the web to get more situations calling for repentance that a preacher can use in a single sermon.

John’s call to repentance is in preparation for end-time events. However, the life-renewing value of repentance is not tied to anticipation of a literal end. Indeed, for those who do not think God will (or can) effect a single end but is present in history and inviting people and nature towards a world more like the Realm of God, repentance can actually bring the community into partnership with God in the creating of the new. Repentance is more than “preparation.” It is actual contribution.

To state the obvious, repentance is not simply a one-time event. It needs to be a part of regular life assessment. From this perspective the recurrence of repentance texts in Advent each year provides the church with a mark on the calendar. Repentance once a year is not enough. But in a world in which we so easily accommodate to old age perspectives and habits, it is easy to forget repentance. But each year, the Second Week of Advent will do its best to help us reflect and reconsider.

Romans 15:4-13

The reading from Romans offers an interesting if indirect possibility for connecting with the Gospel Lesson. The latter invites repentance. Romans offers the possibility for the church to repent of centuries of hostile attitudes to Judaism, Jewish people, Jewish institutions, and Jewish scriptures. With anti-Semitism on the rise, this theme is timely.

Paul is an end-time theologian similar to Matthew. So, the description of end-time theology that we made in the “Introduction to Matthew” also pertain to the apostle’s world view. Paul believes that the death and resurrection of Jesus indicate the apocalyptic climax of history is underway. Through the Holy Spirit, God empowers the church to live as an eschatological community during the great transition.

In the seven letters from own quill (so to speak), the apostle interprets situations in the congregations in light of the values and practices of the Realm and encourages the congregations to bring their lives into full consistency with those values and practices. In this respect, Paul is much like today’s preacher who shines the light of the Realm of God on the contemporary congregation and world, illuminating points at which the values and practices of the Realm are coming to live, and changes congregation and world need to make so that their lives align more closely with life of the Realm.

A small group of scholars has initiated a reconstruction of the situation to which Paul wrote that I find compelling, and in which the reading for today plays a pivotal role. Indeed, my colleague Calvin L. Porter sees Romans 15:7 as the climax of the purpose of the letter.

If I may oversimplify, for a long time, many interpreters regarded the Book of Romans as something like Paul’s systematic theology, that is, a summary of Paul’s understanding of the sinful world, God’s redemptive act in Christ, and our response of faith in Christ. This perspective was often accompanied by intense anti-Judaism to the degree that for many, Judaism represented everything bad in religion, such as legalism, rigidity, narrow-mindedness, and, worst of all, works-righteousness. Indeed, Jesus came to save us, in significant part, from Judaism.

This perspective was supplanted by one that viewed Paul writing the letter to address a specific situation at Rome, namely, one in which the Jewish members of the congregation looked down on the gentiles. This perspective often pictured the Jewish believers in Jesus as manifesting many of the anti-Jewish elements I just mentioned, but to less degree. Nevertheless, Paul wrote, to correct the Jewish misperception of the gentiles.

The new point of view—and the one that informs this commentary—sees Paul writing to the Roman congregation in which the gentiles had a superior, even degrading, attitude towards the Jewish participants. The purpose of the Letter to the Romans is to prompt the gentile participants in the church to turn away from their ethnocentrism and to embrace the Jewish members in eschatological community. Indeed, I think Paul intended for the embrace to go beyond Jewish members of the church to the Jewish community more broadly.

From this perspective, the Jewish people were heirs to the promises of God to Sarah and Abraham to bless them and their descendants, and through them, to bless all the other families of the earth. For Paul God had now acted to extend that blessing to gentiles through Christ as part of the eschatological fulfillment. In Romans Paul is especially concerned with the implications of God’s act in Christ in bring about a reunion of Jewish and gentile people in the church.

In Romans 15:1-6, the apostle calls upon listeners to set aside attitudes that frustrate eschatological community, chief among them one of the distinguishing aspects of gentile culture—pleasing oneself to the exclusion of the welfare of others. Followers of Jesus—like Jesus himself—are not to be self-absorbed through the work of God can live together in mutual support. To make pleasing oneself the goal in life is to fall into the trap of the old age. It reinforces the antagonism between communities, including between Jewish and gentile houses.

God’s hope for the period of transition is for the followers of Jesus to “to live in harmony with one another,” that is, in a community in which people support one another and make a witness while the present age is perishing, and the new world is coming to life. The emphasis is not on harmony is not simply an institutional matter but is on the quality of the community life making an adequate witness of the mutuality that is possible under the rule of God in contrast to the divisiveness and exploitation that was typical of community life in the Roman Empire.

In this context, then, Paul brings the purpose of the letter to its climax: “Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you.” The Greek translation of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings, the word for welcome, proslambanō, has very muscular associations. God rescues Israel (Ps 18:16). God takes up those who lose parents (Ps 27:10). God provides a home in God’s court (Ps 65:4). Judas Maccabeus brought together people in mutual commitment to revolt against an oppressive force. For gentiles and Jews to welcome one another is to go far beyond even the extensive hospitality characteristic of the Mediterranean world. To welcome one another is to make the kind of commitment that God made to Israel, that parents make to children, and that warriors make to one another.

The weight of this injunction falls upon gentiles. Since the time of Sarah and Abraham, Jews have understood their vocation to be for the sake of pointing the way to blessing for gentiles. But gentiles have in Rome have separated themselves from Jews under the rubric of a false superiority. Gentiles need to do their part in the community of welcome by renouncing their anti-Judaism and by engaging in support of their Jewish partners.

In Romans 15:8-9a, Paul draws on the traditional Jewish view that the work of God through Judaism had gentile blessing as a major goal. Indeed, Paul summarizes a dimension of the mission of Christ by saying that it confirms extended this work by confirms the promises to the patriarchs and matriarchs “in order that the gentiles might glorify God for [God’s] mercy.”

In Romans 15:9b-13, Using an interpretive technique common to the day, Paul strings together a series of quotations from the Torah, Prophets, and Writings to exhort the gentiles to recognize what God has done correlation between Romans and the passages cited is:

Romans 15:9b from Psalm 18:49
Romans 15:10 from Deuteronomy 32:43
Romans 15:11 from Psalm 117:1
Romans 15:12 from Isaiah 11:10

While each text does have its own nuance, Romans 15:10 summarizes the spirit of this section. “Rejoice, O gentiles, with [God’s] people.” The gentiles are to join the Jews in rejoicing.

I have already indicated one level at which a sermon might work: relationship between Jewish and gentile communities. To be sure, Paul had in mind a reconciliation between these two groups among followers of Jesus. Today, Judaism and the church are separate bodies. The church bears the weight of its anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic behavior, which is still present in latent ways many churches and its obvious ways in others. But the church, a gentile community, should take a cue from this passage to respect the Jewish community. The church should not seek to convert Jewish people to Christianity but, as my colleague Clark Williamson says, should seek to find mutual witness that church and synagogue can make together to the world.

At another level, the preacher might consider how the community-building dimension of the Realm of God can help the church relate to others, beyond Judaism, who are different by way of religion, culture, race, and other factors. How can the church today welcome others in such a way as to promote community with the values and practices of the Realm of God?

Isaiah 11:1-10

In the opening remarks for the Second Sunday of Advent, I posited the idea that a preacher might use motif of repentance in the Gospel Lection as a main theme for a sermon and let the other texts provide examples of things for which to repent. Since Isaiah 11:1-10 is such a beautiful vision, one might think it has nothing to offer such a sermon, Yet, the preacher might encourage the congregation to repent of misusing this text in the Advent and Christmas seasons. I think of the custom—still commonplace in many churches—of thinking that Isaiah had Jesus in mind as “the shoot” that would “come out from the stump of Jesse.” The consensus of scholarship today is that the passage was speaking to a particular time in Israel’s history. To claim that the author had Jesus in view is historically irresponsible, violates the integrity of the prophet’s intent, and distracts the preacher from attending to possibilities for preaching in Isaiah’s own context. In short, the preacher violates the otherness of the text.

Such a sermon could spread into encouraging repentance for misusing and violating any number of texts. The sermon could spread still farther into encouraging repentance for violations of others in realms of humankind and nature.

Scholars debate the historical moment when this text—or even its constituent parts, vss. 1-5, 6-9, were written. I tend to think it comes from the eighth century, the time of the first Isaiah (see comments on Isaiah 2:1-5 on the First Sunday of Advent). The passage seems to me to presuppose a community that is dispirited and whose life conditions are opposite those described in the vision. The community may be in the grip of the Assyrian empire that invaded and occupied the land, ruling by force and extracting heavy tribute.

The vision functions to offer the people hope that God will regenerate the life of the community through a ruler who will follow in God’s covenantal ways—in contrast to the rulers who led the community into disobedience that brought about difficult conditions. While the text speaks about a ruler, the wider emphasis is not on the ruler as such but on the result of the rule for the community.

The vision describes the nature of the nature (Isa 11:1-3a), what the ruler does (Isa 11:3b-5), and the result of this kind of rule (Isa 11:6-9). A preacher could structure a sermon along the lines of these three themes.

Isaiah 11:1-3a establishes continuity between this ruler and the earlier rule of David. The language of “stump” suggests that rulership has been cut down and might appear to be dead. But like a stump that sends out shoots, the power for regeneration is still present. As I contemplate the situation of the historic churches in the United States—typically getting smaller and looking more and more cut down—I find this quite a meaningful image. The church can still put forth a living shoot.

Isaiah 11:2 uses six characteristics to describe the nature of the ruler. While these each have separate accents, they work together to create the picture of one who has the theological consciousness necessary for leading a community in the covenantal ways of God (and for avoiding violations of covenant that resulted in the collapse of the community).

A preacher might compare and contrast rulers in public life today with the vision of the ruler that Isaiah offers. Thinking of the theme of repentance, do we today need to repent of some of the qualities in leaders that we have permitted—qualities that work against a significant theological consciousness? How can the church today help raise up such leaders its own life and for public life?

The work of the ruler in Isaiah 11:3b-5 is focused on nourishing the community in the ways of covenant, a community in which all members work together in mutual support. The faithful ruler does not depend upon hearsay nor upon people who curry favor for their own gain to the neglect of others (Isa 11:3b). The faithful ruler sees that the community is in solidarity with the poor and the meek. That is, the faithful ruler sees that all in the community have what they need to participate full in community and to live without distracting anxiety and fear (Isa 11:4a). As necessary the ruler engages in discipline through the rod of the mouth (giving disciplinary orders) and purging the community of people who would lead it in the ways of wickedness (Isa 11:4b). The ruler always does what is right and faithful from the perspective of living together in covenant.

A preacher might consider the degree to which leaders—and governmental and other institutions—are leading in these ways today. Of what violations of community might the church need to repent? What is needed to bring about a greater quality of covenantal community of the kind described in Isaiah 11:3b-5?

People in the time of Isaiah considered nature to be part of covenantal community. In a certain way, they believed that the elements of nature were responsive, and that nature could participate in blessing the community as well as in cursing. Isaiah 11:6-9 depicts humankind and nature living together in covenant, that is, in mutual support between humankind and the elements of nature. Animals that are often hostile to one another live not only in the same space but supporting one another (Isa 11:6-7a). Animals, like the lion, that often eat other animals change diets and eat straw (Isa 11:8a). Animals that are dangerous to children and other human beings play with children (Isa 11:8b). And all things live together in harmony (Isa 11:9).

This part of the text gives considerable attention to nature. The early twenty-first century is consumed by concern for the future of the natural world, and, of course, the capacity of the natural world to support its own life and human life. Of what might the church need to repent with respect to violations of covenantal relationship within elements of nature and between nature and humankind?

While the church likes to quote this passage in connection with Jesus, the blunt fact is that the beatific conditions of life expressed in this vision have still not come about. In fact, I would say that the conditions of the world are pretty much the same before and after the advent of Jesus. There is are two notable exceptions, and that is that the extent of human suffering has vastly expanded, and the other is that we are in danger of ecocide, that is, killing the environment. The church cannot really say that, to this point, Jesus has “fulfilled” this vision. In my mind, it is enough to look to Jesus as one who, in the tradition of Isaiah, pointed us towards values and practices that could lead to the kind of world enshrined in this vision.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

This psalm is a prayer of intersession on behalf of the ruler of Israel. As a prayer for a leader, it immediately suggests that the service of worship could contain a prayer for leaders of nations and other communities.

A leading responsibility of the ruler of Israel was to see that the community lived according to the principles of the covenant. As I have noted elsewhere in the comments for this Sunday, God intended for life in covenant to provide material resources and social safety for all. In part this emphasis was for the benefit of individuals and households, so they could be free of everyday anxiety. In part, this emphasis was for the community itself. People who are anxious about food, housing, clothing and other aspects of safety are often distracted and not fully available as instruments of community life. Provision for all through covenant aims for all to be as much a part of community as possible.

The particular petitions of this prayer call upon God to help the monarch guide the community in the way of covenant. The ruler, for instance, is responsible to see that justice and righteousness are at the heart of the common life (Ps 70:1). The ruler is responsible for solidarity with the poor, the needy, and the oppressed (Ps 70:2, 4).

A sermon might use the characteristics of covenant with which the ruler is to preside over community in this Psalm as norms by which to measure the degree to which rulers—and governments—are faithful today. When such entities are unfaithful, then the preacher might kick in another part of the model of Israel: the prophet. One of the prophet’s functions was to monitor the relationship among God, covenant, and monarch, and to identify for the monarch and the community the circumstances that violated covenant, and to call for repentance.

A psalm that assumes the validity of monarchy could become the occasion for a sermon on forms of government. On the one hand, I do not favor monarchy or other forms of rule by a limited number of people. They centralize power in much too small a circle, and thereby opens the door for abuse. Yet, abuse is not inherent to such systems. On the other hand, while democracy might have a little more in the way of safeguard against abuse, democracies can also yield policies and behavior that are incredibly abusive, and the more so since they appear to be authorized by the people. I resist limiting power to the few, but I insist that when power is shared by all, it should be power that works in behalf of all.

Ron Allen taught preaching and Gospels and Letters at Christian Theological Seminary from 1982 to 2019. Prior to that, he and his spouse, the Reverend Linda McKiernan-Allen, were co-ministers of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Grand Island, Nebraska. He loves leading Bible studies in congregations.

He has published more than 40 books, most recently: I Will Tell You the Mystery: A Commentary on Preaching from the Book of Revelation (2019). Three of his books are widely used in small group studies in congregations: A Faith of Your Own: Naming What You Really Believe, Reading the New Testament for the First Time, and The Life of Jesus for Today. He was an editor for the pioneering Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Commentary on the Lectionary, which comments on every reading in the lectionary and introduces 22 new Holy Days for Justice (e.g. , Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Peace in the Home, Yom haShoa, Gifts of Sexuality and Gender, Sojourner Truth Day). With O. Wesley Allen, Jr., he urges thinking of preaching as conversation, as in Allen and Allen, The Sermon Without End: A Conversational Approach to Preaching.

Allen and his spouse have five young adult children: Canaan, Genesis, Moriah, Barek, and Sabbath, as well as five grandchildren. He and his family spent summers teaching in Zambia and Jamaica. He has also traveled in Israel, India, South Korea, Belize, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Aruba, Canada, the countries surrounding the Baltic, as well as Mexico, Spain, the Canary Islands, Uruguay, Argentina, Greece, Italy, Croatia, and Antarctica.