My city is full of potholes and cracked sidewalks. It was a critical talking point in the latest mayoral election–who was the candidate who would make our roads and paths viable so that we could get to where we go in safety? The Advent texts and hymns call us to this task this season:
Make you straight what long was crooked, make the rougher places plain; let your hearts be true and humble, as befits God’s holy reign. (Johannes Olearious, 1671)
I have become convinced that my Advent waiting should not be just sitting and watching. After all, for so many of us who are ambulatory or motor-driven and have access to energy and time, our Advents are often spent hurrying, scurrying, trying to get it all done before Christmas. The invitation to me this year is that in the moving around that I do, I be using those moments to prepare the way for the intended rule of God, lending my efforts toward making what is crooked straight and what is rough smooth.
I begin with my shopping. It is a joy to me to give gifts any time of the year, but I am increasingly challenged by how much I give, to whom I give it, and what the human cost of producing the gift is. What is the purpose of my giving? Consciously, I give to show love to the gifted one, but I need to check to see if my attitude in giving is a competitive one with other givers–other grandparents, friends. Have I secretly succumbed to the seduction that glitzier, name brand and more is better? These past years I have also looked at who else besides the recipient might benefit from the gifts I give–Bread for the World, EC-PAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking), Alternative Christmas markets–all have given me opportunities to do that road straightening and pothole filling that is required of me.
My responsibilities as a citizen don’t end just because it is Advent. I just sent a letter to Congress about an unjust strategy that is about to unfold. I need to let my voice as a voter be heard. We continue to have special elections. Print and electronic media run the news cycle daily, and some words and statements need to be challenged and shown up for what they really are. I don’t believe that my finite occupation of the political sphere will bring in the intended rule of God; I do believe that even, maybe especially, in Advent, I need to keep working at the things that make for peace—to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with the Holy One.
And there is the reality of human relationships: how often especially in a holy season, is it possible for sister, brothers, grandchildren, distant relationships and BFFs to become estranged! If I am dead center in the kerfuffle, what am I being asked to do to bring reconciliation? what is my part? And if I am a witness to the estrangement, am I invited to be one who brings about a meeting of persons so that what is lame can be healed, what is broken can be put back in joint?
The world, I in the midst, mourns the loss this week for Nelson Mandela. All but the most bitter and skewed affirm that, even with unpromising and sometimes misguided beginnings, he made a huge change in the topography of the soul of South Africa; he pressed and he worked and he suffered for the full equality of people, especially those of color, in that land, and he held out tirelessly for making the crooked system of apartheid into a straight system of governing, replete with the ideal held and the opportunity given for reconciliation. Most of the world could not have imagined it. And yet is so, warts and all.
As I move in Advent half-light, I want my moves to count as things that work toward making what is crooked around me straight, and help what is rough become plain.
So let us not grow weary in doing what it right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. (Gal. 6: 9)