Advent is the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day where Christians mark the days of darkness waiting for the In-Breaking of Peace, waiting for the Incarnation of Love. It is a season for lighting candles in the darkness because we believe Emmanuel, God With Us, will soon shed the light of eternal love and justice on every dark corner of the world.
Now more than ever it seems like every day, all year ’round is Advent. Aren’t we all waiting for something to change?
Every time another mass shooting takes the lives of hundreds of innocent people, every time a bomb kills little girls in the Middle East, every time another child is sold into sexual slavery, every time another transgender person is beaten to death, every time a little black boy is thrown away in the prison industrial complex while a white, thieving banker is sailing on his yacht, every time an idealistic young cop just four months on the job takes a bullet to the head while intervening in a domestic violence altercation, every time thousands of lives are destroyed by a hurricane or typhoon, every time a jackass drops a cigarette and starts a fire that consumes a mountainside – I find I am not so sure the waiting will ever end. Some days, some weeks – some years, even – my inner light falters as I sink into the nihilism of unbelief.
Oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
And you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
And you will not save?…
Oh Lord, how long shall we cry?
But, rather than wallow in the lamentations of the prophets, I choose today to dwell in the centuries old song of a poor girl who had every reason to be filled with fear rather than hope. In her song I see the light of a hope that understands that even in the darkest moment, God is present.
And Mary said,
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Do I merely take it on faith that there will be an in-breaking, a once and for all shift that will dry the tears, fill the bellies, release the captives and unbind the burdened? Do I naively submerge myself in the story of a Virgin birth, pray and then wait passively in a broken world for another miracle?
No, my prayers will not stop the killing.
No, my prayers will not bring back the innocent.
No, my prayers will not relax the gnarled fist of hatred.
No, my prayers will not open the greedy hearts of those who profit from death.
But, my prayers can gently break the silence of despair.
But, my prayers can channel my rage at the machine.
But, my prayers can embolden me to be the hands and feet of The Divine.
But, my prayers can encourage others of faith to awake, arise and act.
I do not pray for God to send us a miracle.
I pray for God to remind us how to be the miracle.
I am because you are and only together, with a radical belief that a paradigm shift is possible, active hope and faithful resolve to be the change we seek, can we make it stop.
No. I move into action because I witness slivers of light, though swirling with the motes of a weary world, which pierce the present darkness.
I believe we have this whole Advent season, waiting on God notion backwards.
If I profess to believe in an all-powerful and all-good God (and some days I am not sure that I do), then the only way I can comprehend such a broken world is to believe that God self limits on our behalf. Rather than a controlling, coercive power, God beckons.
So, perhaps during Advent, God is waiting on us.
Once, when I was just drifting off for a late winter’s nap, I had the wisp of a dream. A fleeting image of God lighting Advent candles and praying and waiting for us to respond to the Grace poured out for all humans by being that Grace.
I awoke and realized that maybe God is waiting on us to figure out how to peel away our scared and stingy lives to love God and one another with our whole selves.
We are not called to wait passively for the Advent of Peace. We are called to partner with God. Isn’t that our Christmas story? Isn’t that the meaning of the Incarnation? God chose to work with and through humans in the waters of birth, baptism, foot washing and corpse bathing to bring the message of love and reconciliation.
When I feel like I can wait no longer, like the wait is futile, my heart pulls from its shadowy recesses words that move me into action. Words like King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that reject passive waiting and demand action. Words like Walter Wink’s that invite us to understand that the “gospel does not teach nonresistance to evil. Jesus counsels resistance, but without violence.”
Or Alice Walker from We Are The Ones We have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness (The New Press, 2006)
“It was the poet June Jordan who wrote “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” Sweet Honey in the Rock turned those words into a song. Hearing this song, I have witnessed thousands of people rise to their feet in joyful recognition and affirmation. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for because we are able to see what is happening with a much greater awareness than our parents or grandparents, our ancestors, could see. This does not mean we believe, having seen the greater truth of how all oppression is connected, how pervasive and unrelenting, that we can “fix” things. But some of us are not content to have a gap in opportunity and income that drives a wedge between rich and poor, causing the rich to become ever more callous and complacent and the poor to become ever more wretched and humiliated. Not willing to ignore starving and brutalized children. Not willing to let women be stoned or mutilated without protest. Not willing to stand quietly by as farmers are destroyed by people who have never farmed, and plants are engineered to self-destruct. Not willing to disappear into our flower gardens, Mercedes Benzes or sylvan lawns. We have wanted all our lives to know that Earth, who has somehow obtained human beings as her custodians, was also capable of creating humans who could minister to her needs, and the needs of her creation. We are the ones.”
So friends, my light burns brightly when I recall that the light is you and me as we reach out a hand to a devastated friend. Hope flickers brightly again when I see the light in you that offers a word of comfort rather than condemnation. How bright the flame does burn when we all choose to look injustice in the eye rather than bury our heads in the sand. I know the In-Breaking is here and yet to come when I see the light within you that allows the pain of the world to pierce you and compel you to be the hands and feet of God in the world.
The light we are waiting for is us when we allow ourselves to be animated by Grace that knows no limit but self-restricts on our behalf. And that’s not secular humanism friends, that’s not progressive or social gospel theology.
“..Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)
May you rise from your desk, your kitchen table, your recliner or bar stool to BE the light of love in the world.