An Advent Reflection on our Responses to Terrorism and Abuse, “works of darkness” –
In the season of Advent, Christians await the “coming of the Lord”, for the first time and all of the times since; the re-coming, the coming again, the second coming, now and later on, as well as and at the same time as we await and look forward to the birth of a Holy Child, Emmanuel, — God with us — which we celebrate at Christmas. Yet, these celebrations of waiting and arrival, Advent and Christmas, have become co-mingled in ways that we lose too much of both.
Christmas is an answer to a series of questions posed within the weeks and colors and moods of Advent; the red, green, gold and white respond joyously to the purple, dark blue, magenta and pink of the darkening days of December.
Collect for Advent 1 and to be used each Sunday of Advent:
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life (in which thy son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility): that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty; to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who lives and reigns with you and the holy Ghost now and ever. Amen.
Why do we need grace? (Do we know that?) Do we need it? How so and in what ways? For what?
What are the works of darkness? (Both those of others, as well as our own.)
How would we do that, cast them away? What would happen then?
And what is this armor of Light that God is going to put upon us?
How will the armor of light help with the works of darkness, especially if we don’t know what they are?
Collect for Advent 2
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
How is our salvation prepared for? What part do we play in this?
What do we do, have we done with the prophets’ preaching?
What are their warnings? Have we heeded them?
What does it mean to ”forsake our sins”? And, once again, what are “our sins.”
(We may be very certain as to what the sins of others are; but what about us?)
What do we know of greeting with joy Jesus Christ?
Collect for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
It is about much more than stirring fruitcake. (The third Sunday of Advent became known as “stir up Sunday” and was somehow attached to the need to stir the rum soaking fruitcake.)
What is and how does God… “stir up”? Are we to be stirred up?
Is “coming among us with great might” different from some other more gentle form of coming among us?
What will we do, how will we respond to such a coming?
Are we hindered by our sins? What are our sins? How do they hinder us?
How might bountiful grace and mercy “speedily help and deliver” us from those sins?
Collect 4th Sunday
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
So what does it mean that we are mansions to be prepared for God?
How do we prepare for this? (by purification of conscience?… how, for what?
by God’s daily visitation? (Did we know that God comes to us daily?
How are these visits going?
This confusing, strange mixture of Advent and Christmas is understandable; when we focus primarily on the answers to the questions that Advent asks and Christmas offers; it is very difficult to even remember what the questions were or are, or to see how Christmas offers answers to those questions then and now.
And, then again, there is another confusion because Advent is clearly set forth with other forms of difference, beyond the answers to the questions. Advent is flowing over with descriptions, even assumptions that we who live these seasons have some clear idea of how the answers and questions fit together. But, we do not. For the most part, we become more than a bit lost when we really do not know what our sins are, or even perhaps that we have sins that do much damage to the Creation and too each other, sins of disinterest, ignorance, self-absorption, and small mindedness.
And we certainly struggle to see how grace and light and all that is offered is going to help with sins we are unaware of. Advent is offering tools for the repair of something deeply broken and desperately seeking repair. It assumes that those who come to it, who enter in know something of this. Advent proclaims in stereo to those who are broken open, seeking justice from oppression, healing, and reconciliation after a time of great struggle, and at the same time a critique of those who oppress, who cause injustice, and grave suffering.
Down deep, we are both. We are both those who seek the deeply gracious gentle sounds of an announcement, “the Lord is in your midst”,
Surely, it is God who saves me; * I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *and he will be my Savior. Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *from the springs of salvation….(Third Song of Isaiah)
as well as those who are “hindered by our sins”.
In ways of which we are often unaware, we are also those who oppress, those who cast out the refugees, those who contribute to economic and environmental disasters, and those who shame others who do not dress, think, worship, shop, save, work, etc. as we do.
“I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD. ”
Yet, how can that be? We are good people. We ARE good people. “We” did not bomb Paris. “We” are neither those who abuse children, nor those who have covered up the abuse for years. We are good people. And, we ARE.
And being both we finally realize that one side does not in any way undo the other side; we are both. We have both. But most of the time, we forget, or we can’t see how that could be. We see only one side or the other. This season invites, calls, lures us into seeing both sides.
How does that have anything at all to do with Advent?
Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the skies rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation may spring up,
and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also.
Isaiah 45:8, NRSV
Somehow, in our genuinely righteous responses to gross unrighteousness – aka works of darkness – we move from righteousness and into the very setting that we are authentically distressed about and seeking to undo. It is not that we do the same things that cause our alarm and protest against the works of darkness. No, it is much more subtle and more difficult than that. Nor is it that we shrug off the evils of others because we have our own evils and thus no right to protest those of others. Not at all. Rather, our something about the pull of violent evil disturbs the balance of our vision so that instead of seeing clearly where the evil is, came from, and is going; our sight is clouded by fear and rage. Instead of keeping open the “lines of sight” between ourselves and the sources and practioners of violent evil, lines of sight that allow for a critical understanding of the sources, courses, directions of and responses to evil, we begin constructing walls of us and them that shut down immediately even the most rustic of paths toward healing, and peace. We see only how we differ, not what we continue to share with other humans even in the face of the works of darkness. And then we allow those differences to set in motion grave distortions of our understandings of others, and of ourselves. These distortions cause some to think:
“Some terrorists are Muslims, therefore all Muslims are terrorists. Some Catholic priests are serial rapists, and some Catholic hierarchy covered up this abuse; therefore all priests and clergy are practioners of the works of darkness . Therefore, all religions are suspect and to be avoided.”
In no way and not even to the smallest degree does this awareness of our bothness mean that we should ever or in any way cease to “out” terrorism, or abuse in all of its forms, and any and all “works of darkness.” No, never.
There is no excuse for silencing complaints of abuse – emotional or physical –of children or adults. There is no justification for not outing terrorists. None. That is clearly wrong. The compassion of Jesus does not silence protest, or lament, or outrage or any of these very strong emotions that the works of darkness generate. It demands them. And it demands the strong, wise, and appropriate active responses.
And yet when we do so, we must be deeply aware of how terribly easy it is for us to fall into the very pit we are denouncing! The level of wisdom called for in these extremely challenging situations may exceed that of Solomon. Yes, we must work to uncover, announce, and take actions to work against the “works of darkness”, both those of others, but also our own. That is part of the why and value of Advent: that initially we are bid NOT to go out hunting for the works of darkness in others, but rather to begin by becoming aware of those WOD within ourselves. Such awareness is NOT in any way going to stop the efforts against the WOD of others or ourselves, but it is going to dramatically change HOW we respond to those works once they are recognized.
…the “compassion of Christ Jesus” is a wise form of compassion marked by a “harvest of righteousness.”(See Philippians 1:3-11, the Epistle for 2nd Sunday of Advent 2015.) Wisdom is not fooled into being silenced in the face of any evil. Nor does it fall into that pit of self-righteous isolation, blindness, and self-deception that makes righteous responses to unrighteousness so very tricky. Rather this compassion urges, begs and compels us to go back to all of those questions that this season is asking us. This compassion cries out not with a voice of white hot rage, but rather with the deep, steady calm of true righteousness to hear all of the voices in the wilderness. So that we may discern the differences among them and then come to see, know, and do those things to which the compassion of Jesus moves us. Thus may we “prepare the way of the Lord”, and “await the day of his coming,” “soon and very soon”, in peace. Amen.