Advent 1: The Beginning is Near
“When we feel certain that the human soul is no longer at work in the world, it’s time to make sure that ours is visible to someone, somewhere.” ---Parker Palmer
Beloved, we are living in an age when some of our siblings in the world are fleeing their homes and homelands in order to find a better life---a life where violence is not persistently nipping at their heels, a life where their children can flourish, a life where hunger and thirst are not constant companions. This may be hard for us to truly wrap our heads around, for most of us, if not all of us, have not experienced such desperation, such fear. I, myself, have lived on welfare, have had times of great financial struggle, but never have I felt that I needed to walk thousands of miles, leaving all I know behind, simply to seek a safer life for my children and myself. This reality I do not know.
And Beloved, we live in an age when these neighbors of ours, as they take these desperate and risky steps toward a more abundant life, they are met with tear gas, with their children being taken from them and kept in cages. They are met with threats and racist depictions of who they are.
I know I am not alone in my heartbreak and anger about the harm being done to our siblings. These ones who are most vulnerable. But what really breaks my heart is the lack of movement within our nation to stop this from happening; what devastates me is how many brothers and sisters of mine, of ours, are okay with this taking place. And I don’t think these siblings of ours are villains. I think, that just like us and like all humans are capable of doing, they are simply believing a narrative that benefits them. We all want to believe narratives that do not challenge or disrupt our comfort, our status, our assumptions and expectations. These narratives that allow us to remain inward-centered, protecting self at all costs.
The narrative being told in this age is that these beloved ones who are fleeing their homeland are people we should fear. We are told to be afraid of this portion of our family because:
1. They are illegal
2. They are most likely going to hurt us or others
3. They are going to take something that is rightfully ours
Beloved, we can choose to believe this narrative. We can choose to rationalize and justify actions that deny our neighbors healing, that deny them assistance and help. We can let fear rule our hearts.
But, Beloved, this is not God’s narrative. The Psalmist today reminds us that “All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness.” Not just love and faithfulness from God to us, or love and faithfulness of us to God. But love and faithfulness of God to all people, and love and faithfulness of neighbor to neighbor. For loving our neighbor is how we love God. The Way of Love.
This current age’s narrative of building walls, denying our neighbor, letting fear determine how we live with those who are not like us---this narrative is not our narrative. And we cannot succumb to it.
Because we are God’s people, and God’s narrative tells us that people, Beloved, people are never illegal. And even in this current age, the truth is that our migrant neighbors are not even taking illegal action. Seeking asylum is legal---here and throughout the world. While it may be unwanted by some or it may be threatening to some, it is a legal right of humanity. Even in this current age.
And Beloved, God’s narrative tells us to be not afraid. We are not to shun our neighbor out of fear, but we are called to love our neighbor. In Scripture, specifically in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke, we learn that our neighbor is whoever is in need. And, we are shown that how we love our neighbor is to show mercy and compassion, to take the risk of crossing boundaries and borders in order to assist our neighbor. This is the way of love. This is our narrative.
God’s narrative is about an abundant life, not scarcity. An abundant life that rises from acts of generosity, of sharing and not hoarding, of distributing justly what God has provided instead of allowing ourselves to be possessed by what we think of as our possessions. As Americans, we may be worried about not having enough resources---that we don’t have enough jobs or our economy cannot sustain so many folks in need.
But the Gospel truth of helping our neighbors instead of denying them only seems foolish or financially impossible when we isolate ourselves. As Americans we may or may not have all the resources needed to deal with the health, safety, shelter and employment needs of our neighbors at the border, but as global siblings we most certainly do.
Here’s the thing, Beloved: as a follower of the Way of Love, our true identity as the people of God, there’s simply no room to be okay with what is happening in this age at our nation’s border. Maybe the answer is not as simple as “just let everyone in,” but our response, according to God’s narrative, should be an act of mercy, of compassion, of healing, of uniting and not dividing. Acts that say: we see you; we know you; we are bound to you; your wholeness is my wholeness. For together, we are the Beloved. “Whatever you do to the least of these,” Jesus tells us, “you do to me.” Love God; love neighbor.
So first and foremost, let us---as Christians---let us know our own narrative, God’s narrative, so deeply and so profoundly that we are not duped by another narrative, the narrative of this age. Let us not be captured by fear or sideswiped into self-centered protection at all costs---leaving our brothers and sisters bleeding and crying at the side of the road. Let us look for where God is at work and then join in that redemptive and healing work. Let us stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near. Justice and righteousness are signs of God’s Kingdom---a new age dawning.
At this start of a new church year, today’s readings on this first Sunday of Advent speak of an apocalypse---that’s right---again with the apocalypse. There will be “signs in the sun, the moon and the stars and our earth…” (and friends, let’s not forget who created and who is in control of the sun, moon, and stars…). The “powers of heaven will be shaken….” “The days are surely coming…” Jeremiah prophesies. The end to one age and the beginning of another; the world is about to turn, echoes the Mother Mary who is preparing to give birth to Love in the world. A revolution.
Social Justice advocate and follower of the Way Dorothy Day once wrote: “The greatest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.”
Beloved, the world is about to turn, from one age to the next. Turning with the revolution of one heart at a time. Each heart marinated in the narrative of God’s love, each heart trusting in the call of Jesus to Come. Follow. Come and see. Come and break bread; take and eat. This is God’s love for you. This is God’s love for our neighbors. Know who you are. Know whose you are. Come, beloved, and “cast away the works of darkness; put on the armor of light.” The Kingdom of God is near.
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Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.