This Advent season, which begins today, is a time of darkness and stillness and quiet. It is the time the Church has set aside for centuries to prepare for Christ. So let us now take a moment to center ourselves, to seek silence, to make room in our hearts for the beloved guest who is coming. [SILENCE]. With your eyes closed, imagine yourself in a dark and quiet and safe and comfortable room. Now light a candle and watch what it illumines, and what it doesn’t. You can open your eyes now.
Advent is my favorite season of the year because it is the most culturally complex to negotiate, the most spiritually challenging to live out. This month we are called to stand our ground as the stream of advertisements pass by us. We are called to celebrate graciously and joyfully the merry holiday sentiments of our coworkers and friends and family even as we wait ourselves for a Greater Coming. And we are called to notice the darkness of the world’s suffering and wonder and wait and watch for Christ’s final justice to illumine the hearts of all people.
It would be easy to set this season up as a time of mighty struggle between the Church and the world. But that’s too simple. For the world has learned from the Church and has been inspired by the wild expectancy and precious hope of Advent and surprised joy of Christmas. And as its ultimate compliment, the world has co-opted this celebration of the church as its own.
And so we are entering into a special time for both the Church and for our world — and our world knows no other way than to mark our most poignant moments but with the purchase of more things. Consumerism is our shared vocabulary, our common secular language. Christians can grumble about this, but its reality remains.
And yet what is also true is the sentiment behind the insufficient language, for this is a season when both the Church and the world dare to hope, to even wildly expect, that something will change — that the tragedies and injustices of this world will be made right. That sentiment is underneath the products and the jangle and the glitter for most of us, churchgoing or not.
That the tragedies and injustices of this world will be made right: that yearning, that longing, is why Advent is my favorite season. It invites me into a reflective space where I am haunted and encouraged every day by what I see humans do. Advent highlights for us the tension between what is and what could be, no, what should be the reality in this lovely world. Advent leads me into troubling, revealing questions, like:
What is the reality of race in America? Something our society preferred to ignore was brought to light in Ferguson, Missouri over these past painful months: that millions of Americans don’t trust the police to protect them, and that this mistrust is based in large part on race. In fact, one in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life, compared with one in every six Latino males, and one in every 17 white males, if current trends continue. But we know what should be: all children should be given every opportunity to thrive. Justice should be blind. Race shouldn’t still strangle us. Killing each other shouldn’t be as easy as pulling a trigger.
In the words of Benjamin Watson, a black man whose Facebook post on Ferguson when viral recently: “I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.” And yet, Watson continues: “I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.”
Ah, we limited humans! God, come among us and make this right, make us whole! “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence”! Make us and your world holy.
Alas, the truth is that Christ has come and comes and is among us today. Christ is living and beside us and caring for us and the world today, if we would but let him in to our places of pain and fear and jealousy and loss and selfishness. If we would but let him in to do his conversion work.
Letting in Christ takes courage and honesty and faith. But even more basically, letting in Christ demands space and time. I challenge us to make that time and space for ourselves each night this Advent, to find that safe and comfortable and quiet and dark room and sit in God’s presence until our minds quiet, too, until we can feel the emotion of our days, until we can mourn what we read in the news, until we can sit with the painful realities that confront us. Then we can strike a match and be startled by its sudden light: watching what it illumines, and what it doesn’t. The flame is so frail and yet able to light up the room, and if God’s grace be good, might it light the candle of our hearts.
In the dark and silent moments that follow the quieting of our minds, when we are alone with our Creator, may our prayers be mighty and vulnerable, seeking a hidden truth, asking a precious question: what might we do, oh Lord, with all that you have given us, in service to this aching and dazzling place, this place we call, for the moment, home?
The Rev. Colin Mathewson