November 30, 2015

Uncomfortable Realities and Hope

This Sunday we began Advent with the usual apocalyptic lectionary readings. Jesus says, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” 

I never know quite what to make of these words. They're a little unsettling and I’d rather pretend that Jesus didn’t say them. In this respect, Advent is a little like an invitation to a party you’re not sure you want to attend. You're happy to be invited but you don't know what to expect. What kind of people are you going to encounter? How late are you going to have to stay up? Wouldn’t it be nice just to stay home and watch a movie instead? But you can’t just ignore an invitation like that.

Some of these readings make me think of our current reality. The seas are roaring and nations are in distress. The temperature or our planet is rising because of climate change and many live in fear of terrorism or racist violence or war. Advent asks us to consider all of that. To look at the difficult and uncomfortable truths and ask us how we will respond. It might be easier to ignore them, to stay home, but you keep thinking about that invitation. 

On the first Sunday of Advent I joined a climate march. Not because it’s how I wanted to spend a Sunday afternoon (especially after traveling back from the Thanksgiving weekend on a train with a very unhappy dog), but because the reality of climate change is constantly breaking into my life no matter how much I try to ignore it, forcing me to respond. 

This has happened to many of us in recent years. Some of us have been forced to consider the racist systems in which we are all complicit but have been ignoring because we didn't encounter the negative effects ourselves. We’ve also had to grapple with the threat of unhinged violence, whether it’s shootings at Planned Parenthood or bombings in Paris, and all the fear and prejudice it brings up in our nation. 

Fortunately, Advent is also about hope. The hope of salvation by something larger than ourselves, of change on a scale we can’t quite comprehend. We face these terrible and terrifying things in the context of a long history of love and salvation. 

Perhaps this Advent can be a time for us, the Church, to face those uncomfortable realities of climate change and racism and endemic violence. To resist the temptation to turn away in hopes that we can see this truth: that even though we are afraid and confused, in the words of Jesus, “our redemption is drawing near.”

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