by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
I think that maybe we’re turning the corner. Maybe, just maybe, this time of waiting and expectation can birth joy and exuberance. I’m still not sure, still not certain what will come. Surely the spirit of God is moving. Surely the way of the Lord is being prepared.
The past weeks have been difficult. The past months somewhat overwhelming. This year, walking in advent hope and expectation has come with its share of challenges.
On numerous occasions in the past few weeks, I’ve been caught referring to advent as “lent.”
A slip of the tongue, perhaps, but that’s how it feels. That’s the moment I’m stuck in.
The hallelujahs of this season, if there have been any, have been, as Leonard Cohen sings it, “cold and broken.” For me, these words, and this song have been my accompaniment this advent season. And they’ve accompanied me because love, whether love for a newborn child, or a dying grandmother, is not a victory march.
Love and hope and joy and peace are on the horizon, but they’re all somewhere around the bend. We may be about to turn the corner, but I’m not there yet.
This past week, in thinking on my advent/lent conundrum, I realised that for those in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Advent is a “little lent.” It too is a time of waiting, preparation and penitence.
For those of us who stick with the lectionary, the advent readings take their sweet time getting to Jesus. Up until today, the gospel readings have spent more time with John the Baptist than they have focusing on the coming Christ.
The way must be prepared. We must be prepared even when in our self-assuredness, John calls us a brood of vipers. We have nothing to rest on. We are entitled to nothing. We may be sons and daughters of Abraham and we may be grafted into the family, but that’s not an exclusivity deal.
Even the stones on the side of the road may be heirs of Abraham. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. An axe lies at the root of the trees. What will be cut down? What and who will be cast into flame?
I don’t know how it is for you, but listening to John the Baptist doesn’t always seem the best way to get into the holiday spirit. On top of that, how can we ever hope to buy! buy! buy! when he’s telling us to give our second, third, and fourth coats away? Doesn’t he know how cold it is in Ottawa?
He calls everything into question. He jars us from complacency. It’s astonishing that these people stick around and ask “what then should we do?” Much of this world, in the face of hard teaching, in the face of such outrageous prophetic demands would turn on its heels and walk away.
It’s happening right now in Cophenhagen. It’s happening everywhere.
Even today as we are all being called to repentance, and even as we’re being called to give our extra to those in need, our global leaders are engaged in a dangerous battle of ecological brinkmanship. We’re pushing this as far as we can, expecting that the other will be the one to bail in this game of Climate Change Chicken.
Lives are in the balance. Power is at stake. The issues are complex, and yet even so, the cry of the prophet in the wilderness rings clear as a church bell. A church bell ringing 350 times on a Sunday afternoon. This too is tied into questions of poverty and affluence. In today’s edition of the Toronto Star, Dr. Stephen Scharper of the University of Toronto’s Centre for the Environment wrote:
The weight of suffering involved in climate change falls ponderously upon the poor. The Maldives islands, for example, are almost completely subsumed by rising seas, and in Bangladesh, around 1 million are displaced every year by flooding, with an impoverished government unable to provide new housing, leading to a surge in homelessness that parallels the rise of the oceans. Moreover, the majority of Bangladeshis live on land less than 10 meters above sea level, and 35 million live in coastal areas. If nothing is done to delimit climate change, these people are in grave danger of losing their homes and their livelihoods.
The weight of these decisions is great. And in the midst of these decisions, we wait. Expectantly, in waiting, preparation and penitence.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this week. I’m not quite sure how to live in advent hope. I’m not sure how to live into peace or joy or love. This year, these things are furthest from my mind.
In the face of the world’s gross injustice, in the face of a toothless deal in Copenhagen, in the face of war, famine and sword…and more personally, in the face of my grandmother’s illness, how do I fit into this story? How do I live this out?
Love may, in the end be triumphant. Love is. But She is certainly not triumphalistic. She does not boast, and She’s neither envious, nor arrogant nor rude. Sometimes love is hard.
And yet love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Perhaps that’s what it’s about for me this year. A test in endurance. Pain and disappointment and sadness are all held in tension with the advent of a new kingdom.
In the midst of it all, I await patiently the birth of the peace, hope, joy and love that continues to turn this broken world upside down.