Do you remember the Christmas carol that sang: We need a little Christmas, just a little Christmas?  That may well be true this year as it is every year; but it seems to me that this year what we need is Advent, and not just a little Advent?  We need to be challenged by Advent and dare to live its message.

This year has been difficult to slog through.  For many of us there have been too few signs to elicit hope.  Angry and disenfranchised people seek validation, even as the vitriol invites the recognition of divisions, to shun, and for some the denial of basic human rights this country professes to stand for.  Do you ever hear the Statue of Liberty’s motto quoted, much less proclaimed?  Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Send these the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.  I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door.  That may well have been true when our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents came to these shores from other lands.  The message we hear more today is one of evicting some and barring entry for others.

We are becoming an increasingly class-conscious society, a society of haves and have-nots.  The majority of the wealth is in the hands of fewer and fewer.  And the poor are poor because they don’t work hard enough.  And if they don’t work hard enough, they don’t deserve a larger share.

In one of our major cities, there have been 4183 shooting victims so far this year.  There may not be very many communities that can say they have had none.  Add to that the incidents of domestic violence and road rage.  There are not many who would say that these are the best of times.

The wars continue with horrific images of children battered and bruised having been rescued from rubble, in many cases the individual survivors of families killed by suicide bombers and strategic strafings.

We need Advent this year.   We need to embrace what Advent proclaims and accept the challenge.

Advent leads us to a celebration of the Incarnation, the union of the Divine and the Human in Jesus and in all humankind.  The event happened in an historical moment and altered mere humans forever.  There is no separation between the Divine and the human.  Humanity is drawn into the community that is the Tri-Une God.  The reality applies to all humans, in every land and nation, of every race and both genders, and sexual orientations.  God loves what God creates with a love that is unconditional and eternal.  Flawed as we are, God’s love prevails.  The human race is one family of God.

We need to accept the challenge of Advent.  In this season we look forward to the coming of the Kingdom of God when Christ returns in Glory.  The challenge for us is to be ambassadors of that Kingdom.  John, the Baptist, was one who pointed the way to the emerging Jesus, the one he knew to be the Messiah.  But then John, who had known his moment of celebrity to the point that some thought he might be the Messiah, was arrested and imprisoned.  And he wondered.  He sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if he were the one, or should they look for another.  And Jesus told them to go and tell John what you see – all the signs of healing, and preaching, and embracing the poor, the outcasts and the sinners, tell John about what you see and he will know and believe.

As challenging as these times are, as much as they could send terror and even despair into the human heart, we who have heard the Good News and who believe must continue to be that sign of the coming Kingdom in the World.  Remember, we, as members of the church, are the Body of Christ.  As church, our message is that all are welcome here.  At the end of our transforming Liturgy, having celebrated Eucharist and shared the meal, we are sent as the Body of Christ to minister in the market place.  We are to be bread that is broken and cup that is poured out.  Our challenge is to put the poor in primacy of place and to minister to them.  That means, also, to honor them and to recognize their dignity.

I had a reunion with a friend I had not seen for many years.  We spent time over coffee catching up.  Our friendship goes back decades.  It became clear to me that we were avoiding talking about church, so I pressed the issue.  He spoke with tears in his eyes.  “The church told me I was no longer welcome, that I am evil.  So, I’ve gone to another community that accepts me.  To tell you the truth, I was dreading our getting together for fear that you would be of that same mind.”

Over the centuries condemning and dividing at times has been a dominant message proclaimed by the church.  We burned heretics and excommunicated those who questioned church teachings.  Classes of people, like my friend, felt they were deemed unworthy of being part of the church.  That was never what Jesus preached.  His Good News welcomed all, especially the poor, yes, but also the Gentiles and those considered unclean.  God’s love comes into the world through Jesus and is meant for all people.

We need a little Advent this year.  As individuals, each of us can be John, the Baptist by living in such a way that we prepare the way for Christ for those who do not know Christ.  We assist in the reconciliation with Christ for those who thought the church considered them unworthy of being part of the Body.  And if you have been wounded by what you perceived to be a condemnation or declaration of unworthiness, and your heart is aching for reconciliation and acceptance, hear the Gospel and find the community that welcomes you and proclaims God’s unconditional and eternal love for you.

Advent is a season of expectation that culminates in the celebration of Christmas and the realization of that longing.  We live in a time of expectation for Christ’s return in glory and the full reign of the Kingdom.  In reality, it is both and, both a time of longing and of living in the fulfillment in our union with Christ.  There is tension in keeping those two phases alive in our hearts.  But if we let the Spirit lead us we can do it.

Here is a suggestion.  If there is someone you look down on, get down to that person’s level and see a brother or sister.  If it is a group or class that you despise, get to know a representative of that group and find his/her humanity.  If you have a need to forgive or be forgiven, let it happen.  By the way, it is easier to forgive if you remember your own need for forgiveness.

Each of those encounters will enable you to be John, the Baptist, in this age.  And every embrace in forgiveness and acceptance and recognition of dignity and worth hastens the day of the Kingdom we long for.  We need a little Advent this year more than ever.




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