This past week my sister and her family were with us for several days and we all had joyful coming together with our parents to celebrate around the Thanksgiving table. It took some doing to get my Dad from Country Center to my Mom’s assisted living center, where we shared the meal, but the effort worth it as we saw how happy it made them both to have us gathered around them. I hope that your celebrations brought you close to those you love also, in some way or another, and that those moments were blessed for you.
Well, as is often the case, these visits seem too brief, and before we knew it my sister and her family were packing up to head back home. Early morning flights meant they had to leave our house in their rental car in the wee hours of Saturday morning. We hugged goodbye on Friday evening, but I thought sure I would wake up when they began moving around and get up to see them off. I woke when it was still dark out, but my clock told me it was an hour past the time they were to leave, so I got fearing they had overslept, but in fact they were already gone. I could not believe I had slept so soundly as to miss three people gathering their belongings and leaving my house in the middle of the night!
This experience made me think of the way our second lesson this morning from Romans starts out – Paul writes, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Clearly yesterday morning when I woke I was confused about what time it was. And maybe that is a good way to begin Advent, because in its themes and its timing Advent is about the experience of being disoriented and then reoriented by the mystical and unexpected movements of God.
Advent begins the New Year before the world expects it. A whole month before we are ready to flip the calendar to reveal a fresh New Year, Advent places us on day one of the new church year. Just as commercial world is ratcheting up for the Christmas shopping season, with full-on glitz and everyone’s favorite holiday songs playing on an endless loop, the season of Advent is beckoning us to slow down, and slip away to a quiet, shadowy place to do some deep listening as the light builds gradually on our advent wreaths. This spiritual focus of Advent is a real disconnect from the activities that are cranking up around me, and I consider that a good thing. It is not that the larger cultural festivities – the gift giving, the parties, the tree lightings, etc. – are bad things. It’s just that they are not the whole thing – not the full picture of what is going on, so they don’t really satisfy me in the end – I just keep feeling that there has to be more.
In a strange way this year, perhaps more than any other I can remember, I am in a place where I feel ready for this season of disorientation to begin. I think that is because I am already feeling that way. sa Some incidents which have taken place in the wake of the presidential election have felt disorienting to me. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League – to name just two prominent organizations that keep tabs on how our society is doing in protecting the human rights of all our citizens – both report large upticks in incidents of hate crimes and hate related speech in the weeks since the election. And the very sad part is that a good percentage of these incidents are happening in America’s schools. This was a real wake-up call for me! I literally was asleep to the fact that such ideology was still so prevalent in our country. I feel disoriented by this reality, but at least I am awake it now, and that is a good place to begin when figuring out how to respond to this new reality.
This week I was in attendance at an open meeting of the City of Newburyport’s Commission on Tolerance and Diversity. The meeting was called to be a place for Commission Members and members of the general public to come together to talk about responses to instances of hate speech in our community. This was brought on by several incidents of hate speech that have taken place in the Newburyport Public Schools. There have been swastika graffiti found, and at the High school there was an incident in which hate speech was used against a Muslim student by a fellow student. The attendance at this open meeting was good and I felt the meeting was a positive first step in helping our community figure out how to hold citizens accountable for unacceptable behavior, and the same time look for healing rather than further fracturing of our community.
At the close of the meeting, a Muslim friend of mine who had been in attendance told me that he felt the positive part of this situation is that these ideas and thoughts are now being shown, and not hidden. He made the point that if these ideas and thoughts are present but not expressed, they could not be publically called into question and addressed. He said he thinks it is much more dangerous when hateful ideas are not whispered in secret where they cannot be engaged. As painful as it is to hear such things being spoken he said, it nonetheless gives the community the chance to protect those who are vulnerable and to hold purveyors of hate accountable and to help them to grow in a new direction if they are willing.
In the Gospel lesson for today Jesus says,
“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Advent is the season that paradoxically makes us ready for what will be the unexpected hour of the Son of Man. That hour is coming each and every day in our interlocking communities of church, city, schools, family, state, diocese, nation, as we are enlisted to help unexpected good come out of situations that at first we think can only result in evil. And these daily occurrences are only foretastes of the eventual final coming of the Son of Man at the end of time, when as our first lesson from Isaiah envisions, all peoples will gather around God’s holy habitation and will know a time of peace and harmony. May we live expectantly and love courageously in this season, trusting that our God of love is bringing it all to pass, through all of us who look even the least bit interested!
Happy New Year, people of God! Amen+