It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—out there anyway—actually it has looked that way since at least since October. In here, though, it is not yet looking at all like Christmas, with today’s scriptures being exhibit A: Isaiah with his frightening images of torn open heavens fire and shaking mountains, and Jesus with his dire predictions of the day Jerusalem would be destroyed. Not at all like Christmas.
Then again, even out there, out in the world, it isn’t looking like Christmas everywhere. As I watched TV Monday night, waiting with many for the judgment of the grand jury in Ferguson, looking at images of the crowds gathered, full of tension and worry and uncertainty, I noticed a lit sign at the bottom of the screen, strung across Florissant Ave. “Season’s Greetings” it said. But it wasn’t looking at all like Christmas.
Oddly enough, that sign did announce “Season’s Greetings”— but they were the tidings of Advent, like our readings today, full of the tension between the way the world is, and God’s promise of how it will be, how it is meant to be, when things are on earth as in heaven.
Watching the situation unfold in Ferguson, marked by anger and fear, distrust and the threat of violence from all sides, it struck me that it was not too unlike the scene in today’s gospel passage, written either just before or just after the terrible destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD: boots on the ground from Rome surrounding the city, soldiers dressed in a different kind of “riot gear” a population in revolt, armed and armored in its own way, and the little church in Jerusalem caught between them, still hoping for rescue in the glorious return of Jesus.
The ancient Hebrews speaking in the prophet Isaiah in the first reading were in a similar position, in exile in Babylon, Jerusalem a smoldering ruin, wondering if they would ever know God’s favor again. All these communities lament with the psalmist today: How long, O Lord? Let your face shine, they pray, that we may be saved!
How long? the lament rises from so many places. How long? lament the people of Sierra Leone, as Ebola ravages their country. How long? lament the millions of people living with HIV and AIDS, whom we remember this week with World AIDS Day. How long? lament immigrants here and elsewhere in the world without legal status or the protection of law. How long? lament the people of Syria and Israel/Palestine and Libya and Iraq and Afghanistan and Nigeria and South Sudan and every place where conflict seems without end. How long? lament people here in our city who struggle to get by day after day on poverty wages and hand-me-downs and the charity of others. How long? lament our neighbors in communities where violence and poverty are an everyday fact of life.
How long? we also lament, when our own personal Jerusalems seem surrounded and ready to fall, when our families fracture or fail us, or our communities or our friends abandon us, or our bodies fail us, whether we are in our hospital room or our living room.
And yes, how long? lament people in Ferguson and in other communities of color. How long will it be until our children get the same resources, have the same chances, the same protections, are treasured and loved and valued as much as children, at least some of them, whose skin is not black or brown? How long? is the lament of Advent. Let your face shine, that we may be saved, is its prayer.
And yet, there is good news to be had. Listen to Paul: In every way you have been enriched in Christ, in speech and knowledge of every kind, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Not lacking in any spiritual gift”—even as we lament “how long”? “Not lacking in any spiritual gift”—even as we struggle to respond to the world around us. “Not lacking in any spiritual gift”—even when our Jerusalems seem ready to fall.
Jesus has not abandoned us or left us empty-handed; in the spirit of Jesus we have everything we need, in “knowledge and speech” and I’d add in money and talent and energy to do the work God is sending us to do in this world of lament. In the spirit of Christ, we have the gifts and the grace to respond in helpful, meaningful ways to the great challenges that face us, whether the inequalities and injustices exposed once again in Ferguson, and which mark Cook County every bit as much as St. Louis County, or the root causes of hunger and homelessness, which are so much a part of the mission and ministry of St. Augustine’s. God has equipped us for this Advent work, and God is sending us to do it.
In that light, Advent seems less about waiting for Christ to come and rescue us, more about Christ waiting for us, the world waiting for us, to reveal the body of Christ we have been called and equipped by God’s grace to be. How long? our Christ laments. Let your light shine, he calls to us, that the world may be saved.