In these early weeks of Advent, our time of waiting for the arrival of the One who will bring to us good news of salvation is often grounded in a mood of lament. “In the bleak midwinter,” when days are dark, our troubles and burdens can seem overwhelming. Our eager anticipation and yearning for good news is firmly rooted in the gloom that surrounds us.
For many of us, that bleak feeling is unusually strong this year. A combative election cycle has eroded our sense of community across our nation and our world. We are warned of dangers at our borders, while many different definitions of “the other” are held up as threatening our well-being, requiring new vigilance to protect us from imminent danger.
During these Advent days, I ponder the ways in which I am called to live out my faith – to make my faith matter – in the face of so much accumulating fear and hatred. The angel’s announcement to the shepherds frames the good news of the gospel, so often repeated by Jesus throughout his ministry: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”
What does that message mean for me, as I seek to be a faithful follower of the Christ? There are many dimensions of my answer; here I list only three.
First, I will identify individuals who are threatened by the current mood of fear and anger, will get to know them and seek to encourage and support them. There is a straightforward way for me to do that here in Louisville, where we are living for these months: a family of Syrian refugees is being sponsored by our church here and arrived in our community three months ago. I will do what I can to help them. Whether “other-ness” is defined by religion, race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation or economic status, there are people in all of our communities who are being marginalized by the current mood of fear and anger and who need encouragement. Let us seek them out as individuals and do what we can to reassure them that we, as Christians, stand with them in their need.
I will be careful of my language, to avoid giving way to either fear or anger in ways that demean and denigrate whole groups of people. I will also challenge others who fall into that practice. A reported sharp increase in cases of verbal harassment in recent weeks, especially in schools, is a major cause of concern. Such patterns of speech must be challenged and not be “normalized” in our discourse.
Finally, among the many policy changes under consideration that go against my understanding of what it means to establish a just and fair society, I will identify one or two that are of greatest importance to me and will work with other like-minded people to try to move things in what my faith teaches me are good directions. I will try to do that with humility and with respect for those with whom I disagree (see the point made above!); but I also know that major changes in the ways in which people who “fall among thieves” get their wounds bound up require more than individual acts of getting off our personal mules and paying the local innkeeper to take care of them. Our policies and communal practices must also reflect those broader visions.
If Advent starts out in a dark night, it ends with the birth of a child who came to “bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” May this message of inclusive love undergird our individual actions and the actions and decisions we take together in this season and in the coming years.