This is our advent mantra: in this season, as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of Christ’s birth and eagerly anticipate Christ’s future return, we remember where we are now – and we wait.
Advent is a time that allows us to lament the sorrows of our tragically broken world and reflect upon how desperately we need God’s shalom to break into our chaos and our pain.
And this particular advent, our cry for the Lord to come seems all too uncomfortably deep-seated and close to home.
As a nation we are reeling in the wake of the horrific Newtown tragedy, which further serves to recall us of the myriad tragedies occurring daily in our own cities and around the world.
As a planet, the reality of Climate change is ever starker – few issues of our time invite such fear and despair. We feel homeless on our own planet to know that most of us have never lived a single month in a non-warming world. Where I live in New York City, thousands still struggle to piece their lives back together in the wake of Superstorm Sandy — not the least, including the undocumented Mexican community, who not only suffer the loss of property but also face additional barriers to access help in their struggle.
As climate activists, we are frustrated by the reluctance of congress to enact climate legislation and by the constant claims of climate denial from even some our own brothers and sisters in Christ.
As individuals and communities, we feel the “not yet” of God’s kingdom in our own circles and at home: the pain of jobs lost, of crises in the lives of friends, and of loved ones’ passing – memories which creep all too close to the forefront of our hearts and minds at Christmastime,
…. and passionately, we cry, Come, Lord Jesus.
How can it possibly be true, that, as we oft sing in a beloved Christmas hymn, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight?”
This time, of all times, we need a fresh word of hope.
As I pondered what could possibly speak to the ever-chaotic and seemingly relentless stream of bad news around us, I was hearkened to the good stories in the news: of an ever-growing global movement to fight climate change, of the EPA’s newly-strengthened soot standards, of human goodness amid tragedy, of the message of God’s love being spread through YECA — and all of this is indeed wonderful. These stories cheer the weary heart and testify to God’s grace so generously poured forth on all he has created.
But is this news of climate activism, human kindness, and political progress a hope enough for our wounded world? Is this sufficient basis for genuine hope?
The truly good news – the news that we need – is that an even greater hope is bursting forth.
See, at Christmas we get to remember God’s humanity and his walk on earth – that he came as Emmanuel, God with us, the divine incarnate in human flesh – in order to reconcile all of creation to himself and, through his resurrection over the dead, to inaugurate his kingdom here on earth.
It is this very Jesus who came to dwell among us that offers just the hope we need and for which we so urgently yearn.
The scriptures bear witness to a God who tents among us. He was born in a barn, as a minority in a society that rejected him from his birth and continued to reject the message of true life and good news for the poor that he preached throughout his career. He was born to us as a human to suffer and die as a human, and this means that none of the death or darkness we experience in this life is outside of his experience. As pioneering eco-theologian Joseph Sittler puts it:
“At the heart of the Christian message is the affirmation that God himself enters our dying – that God, the Creator of all things, the life of all life, has himself undergone that which is most common to us humans. The one of whom the church says, ‘In him is the fullness of God,’ not only died; he died a crucified convict. The Christian faith says that nothing in human experience is outside the experience of God.”
How does this give us hope?
God is with us. He came to walk among us and will come again to make all things new, and has left his spirit with us as we live in the time of longing between the resurrection and kingdom come.
As we conclude what has been an incredible first year for YECA and now move into a new one, we conclude it in this season of advent – where we recognize the tumultuous times we live in and the gravity of the climate crisis that not one of us alone can solve. But we also conclude in this season of looking forward to Christmas, and to Christ’s second coming – knowing that while the fight we have in front of us is a hard one, and while the darkness is here to stay (for now), we place our hope in he who has already conquered death.
So we wait, but we wait in action, and we wait in hope.
And as we call upon the Lord to return, our hope will grow. Franciscan father Richard Rohr shows us how this is so:
“‘Come, Lord Jesus’ is a leap into the kind of freedom and surrender that is rightly called the virtue of hope. The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution and still be content… because our source is beyond ourselves. … We are able to trust that he will come again, just as Jesus has come into our past, into our private dilemmas and into our suffering world. Our Christian past then becomes our Christian prologue, and “Come Lord Jesus” is not a cry of desperation but an assured shout of cosmic hope.”
So may we have the boldness to hold onto this paradoxical, mysterious hope that comes from God’s good future and bursts forth into the present. And fueled in this incarnational– resurrection hope, may we patiently work to build for God’s kingdom, ever-crying:
Come, Lord Jesus.
Quotations from Joseph Sittler, Grace Notes and Other Fragments, 119 (Fortress, 1981); and Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas, 4-5 (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2008)