Today, right this minute, some 34 million people are living with AIDS.
Wait a second…That’s not very festive.
December 1 is World AIDS Day. It is a day to commemorate the loss of life; to raise awareness; to advocate for those needing treatment; and to work for a cure. This is a cause near and dear to my heart, and to my calling as a minister. I’ve been involved with AIDS service organiations in Kentucky, North Carolina, Phoenix, and have even travelled with a group to Africa on a learning and service trip. All that hither and yon has taught me one thing: people of faith–any faith/all faiths–are called in a significant and fundamental way to be a part this conversation. It cannot be avoided.
And yet, every year when it rolls around, I find myself feeling that it’s unfortunately timed. I mean…DECEMBER 1! We’re busy! Isn’t that the day we turn the page on our calendars–especially if we are church people–and break into a cold sweat at the sheer density of stuff packed into the next 4 weeks? Isn’t that the day we allow ourselves to finally begin enjoying the music, the lights, the tree… And I mean, don’t we already have all the Advent stuff up in the sanctuary? Not a great day to have a mission-focus event, or an extra prayer service. Like I said: we’re busy, and it isn’t very festive.
I catch myself thinking this every year, wishing that we could do the World AIDS thing in January, when we are already depressed; or in May, when we are winding down for the summer. Or in July, when NOTHING else is happening (at least, in the desert).
But really, what could be more timely for a season of active waiting? The AIDS pandemic points to the very embodiment of hopeful forward motion. We wait for a cure…and yet, we know we can’t wait sitting still. We know, as surely as we know Christmas is coming, that a cure depends on us; that the comfort and care of the people living with the disease depends upon our presence; that faithful conversations about prevention and treatment depend on our prophetic voices.We know, in this season of heart preparation, that when we pray, “God, please help these people!!” that God replies…”Back atcha.”
Around this time every year, I also start to feel like I really need to get my house all cleaned and organized before i can put up decorations. I want a clean slate, a pristine backdrop against which to enjoy those sparkly lights. And so i wait. But sometimes waiting gets us nowhere fast. I learned long ago that if i wait until my house is in order to put up the tree…well, you know. There’s no tree.
If we are waiting for a world free of suffering, a world wholly just and fair, to begin the festivities, then we will surely be disappointed. And if we are waiting for the proper window of downtime, the blank expanse of day planner to pencil in our work for justice, then that’s never going to happen either.
Every year, I come a little closer to the truth that this day of rememberance and action does, in fact, belong here. That this is where the work of Advent starts, on Day 1 of December. We put up the tree, even if the house is a wreck, even if the world is torn, even if people are dying. It glimmers in the corner for weeks to come, reminding us that any good work of the gospel begins with us, but does not end there. It reminds us with sure hope that Jesus is coming, and soon. We may not have to wait on him to start the party–but surely, he is waiting for us.
A hurting world waits, too. Though not exactly cheerful, this day can be filled with hope. In that wilderness between how far we’ve come, and that day when we’ll say “that awful disease that used to kill people,” a light shines in the darkness. That light may not be on a tree, but you know, it does come with a pretty red ribbon. For today, that will be enough festivity for me.