On Monday I was struck with both joy and grief simultaneously.
For those of you who attended the Mt. Adams Ministerial Association’s (MAMA) Ecumenical and Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration, you know that it was a wonderful event. On Monday we celebrated both our differences and commonalities, we celebrated the generosity of God’s grace and blessing, we sang, we laughed and we offered love to one another. Personally, I think it was one of the best celebrations MAMA has ever hosted.
And yet, many miles from our little community, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. There was rioting and looting. There was fear of the “other” and violence. As I perused facebook, I read as colleagues were opening their churches, standing on street corners, and offering words of consolation and peace. My heart was breaking for those who had experienced injustice. My heart was breaking for a grieving mother who had lost her son. And my heart was breaking for a community that had lost hope.
And here we are, with the start of the Advent season. A time of hope and expectation. Yet our lessons for today begin with a lament and end with a “mini-apocalypse”...neither seem hopeful.
In the Isaiah reading we have the prophet lamenting that the people have forgotten God, and pleading for God to break in and redeem them. The people have become distracted by false idols and have forgotten the covenant with God. Isaiah pleads for healing and reconciliation with God. How have we become distracted? What have we forgotten?
In our “secular” lives, the start of Advent goes almost unnoticed. The most acknowledgment the season gets are those little calendars with chocolates behind each of the flaps...it’s a countdown to Christmas. It’s become a season where we don’t spend time watching and waiting, but instead our calendars are filling up with school activities, holiday parties, family gatherings and church events. In our “everyday” lives, we are feeling more pressure with the coming of the holiday season, and so we're amped up, on edge, and perhaps a little testy with one another.
The reality of our lives is such that we don’t often realize that we’re distracted from the simple act of watching and waiting. We often don’t realize that we’re distracted, because we’ve learned to manage our complex and complicated to-do lists. And it is in this state of perpetual distraction that we forget what true peace--shalom--the peace that only God can give--we forget what the prophet Isaiah is lamenting for. We forget.
But there is also hope during the season of Advent. Throughout the season, we will be pointed towards the coming of the Christ child--Immanuel--God with us. We will be directed to look for signs of disruption, of God breaking into human lives. We will be watching and waiting for hope, justice, peace and love. As the Rev. Dr. Bill Countryman said, the theme of Advent is that “Christ will return to establish justice on earth, to bind up what is broken, to restore the reign of God among us. Having experienced human poverty, vulnerability, and suffering, Jesus is all the more equipped to bind up the broken heart” (Run Shepherds Run, 3). This is the hope of Advent.
And so as I had my heart broken and filled simultaneously on Monday night, I realized that this is part of how we are in this world...that there are moments of great joy and moments of great sorrow. And God is in the midst of all of that. God is in the midst of the laughter and the chaos. God is in the moments of great glory and the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Part of our work as Christians is to keep awake, to not be distracted, and to pray.
As Advent begins, O Lord Christ, come again to reign over your people and enlighten all nations. Have mercy on all who look to you, and hasten that day when your justice and love will be revealed for the good of all creation and the glory of God. Amen.
(adapted from Gordon Giles, O Come Emmanuel: A Musical Tour of Daily Readings for Advent and Christmas)
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.