My words feel small. Like I’m trying to beat back the ocean with a stick. I could command the waves to stop, but the sea will keep pounding the sand. Recent world events have generated a lot of fodder for preachers and writers, and yet I have nothing to say.
I was raised in an ecumenical church community affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. When I later joined a Mennonite church, where many members were not raised with the church calendar, I became a bit of an Advent purist. Maybe a lot of one.
I, like many people of faith, am reeling from Jerry Falwell Jr.’s proclamations to his student body. Falwell encouraged the students of Liberty University (there are more than 100,000 of them) to arm themselves against Muslim terrorists. His rhetoric reminded me of a bumper sticker I see here in Tennessee: “Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.”
I went to church full of dread after the recent terrorist attacks. Worship included dedicating a new pipe organ. Was it appropriate to be celebrating in the midst of the hatred and fear?
The humanitarian plight of Syrian refugees and the terrorist threat of ISIS seem likely to dominate the cable news channels for weeks to come. But it’s unclear whether Christian preachers will continue to discuss these issues now that the season of Advent has arrived. On the surface there is little connection between ISIS’s campaign of terror and a season that invites us to prepare for the return of Christ.
As the first Advent candle is lit, world leaders will be making their way to Paris to try to create a climate treaty.
Last week we drove 350 miles to Smith College, where our daughter was singing with the glee club at Christmas Vespers. Each year at a pair of services, campus and community enter liminal space by hearing sacred music from student choral and orchestral groups, pondering poetry and biblical readings by students and faculty, and singing carols together. This year it also became a setting to turn attention to other matters. As a Facebook event page put it, “You can’t sing carols if you can’t breathe.”
Last Saturday was a stay-at-home-and-read-a-book-with-a-cup-of-something-warm-in-your-hands sort of day. It was the kind of damp cold that goes straight to your bones and chills your toes so that they don't get warm for the rest of the day. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good parade-watching day. And yet, there we were, lined up outside the library on Church Street, umbrellas in hand, peering down the street and waiting for the sirens to indicate that the parade had started.
We have washed our hands as the war on drugs has overwhelmingly targeted black men. We have washed our hands as our justice system has given longer sentences to people of color. And then, when an innocent man dies, we keep scrubbing our fingers some more, as we blame the victim.
Thanksgiving is over in post-Ferguson America, and it can’t come too soon. A national celebration of country, family and freedom from want follows on the heels of protests, frenzied media, and the deployment of the National Guard over the failure of a grand jury to indict a police officer over the shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown. In an America deeply divided over race and debate over individual character vs. systems, bad apples vs. rigged games, the long dawn of Advent has begun. Thank God.
For many of us, Advent is the most meaningful season of the church year. It’s not passive waiting; it’s living into the promised future.
I entered parish ministry with a fair amount of idealism, particularly liturgical idealism. Inconveniently, the liturgical proclivities I picked up in seminary were not especially popular with my first congregation. This became clear as a sleigh bell during our first Advent season together.
The proximity of Thanksgiving and Advent evokes in me an awareness and celebration of the ways God comes into the world.