Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nearer Now

This past Sunday was the beginning of Advent, one of my favorite seasons. I double-churched (Catholic and Presbyterian), and the readings at both included Romans 13:11-12:

Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Advent means coming. And we are waiting for two comings. The first is Christmas, the Incarnation. We are waiting for our God to become man in order to bring man back to God. Jesus’ birth is a fixed point in time, but each year we enter back into that period of anticipation and nesting, eagerly and joyfully waiting. 

The second coming is, well, the Second Coming, Christ’s return. We are waiting for the end of the world, when we can be reconciled with our Creator. But isn’t that dark, to look forward to the end times? It’s not dark at all; we are people of the light. The end of this fallen world is the beginning of a reconciled one, when all shall well. We should be just as eager and joyful for this arrival as we are for the birth of Christ.

The day is at hand. Each moment we are closer to the arrival. We should be standing eagerly at the window, nose pressed to the cold glass, scanning the darkness for approaching headlights. We must be ready. We must prepare. We must stay awake. We must keep the light on throughout the night.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Closing the Door on Mercy

Back during primary season, I noted the irony of the Year of Mercy overlapping with an election year. People aren’t merciful during election years.The Year of Mercy ended this past Sunday, and it certainly feels like mercy has ended. The past few months have been like watching mercy slowly disappear rather than celebrating it. People are upset and angry and quick to label. We assume the worst of those different from us, those outside our specially-crafted bubbles and feeds and circles. We care about being right more than looking for the truth. We care about proving someone wrong more than helping them see the truth. We want the high ground, even when it means stepping on the backs of others. 

I see the anger continue to fester. I see the water protectors get sprayed with hoses in freezing temperatures. I see corporations buying up legislation that benefits their pockets at the expense of public health. I see crowded private prisons and broken families and addictions. I see nationalism rising as if no one read their high school history books. What a shitty year for mercy.

But mercy is needed more than ever. Even small acts—a blanket, a bottle of water, a hug—keep the light flickering when the world tries to blow it out. Pope Francis said, “How much I desire that the years to come will be full of mercy, so that every person can experience the goodness and tenderness of God!” It is my responsibility to share corporal and spiritual works of mercy, regardless of year or jubilee or circumstance. And it is when people are angry or scared or depressed that mercy is most needed and makes its greatest impact. If we were already good at being merciful, we wouldn’t have needed a jubilee at all. So maybe it was the right year for mercy after all. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Not Quite the End of the World

What a weird week. Without getting into it, it’s clear that the country will forever be changed. You can’t feel the changes right away, but you sense the shift. People are shocked, grieving, angry, exuberant, brash. At the same time, the earth is burning. Literally. Dozens of fires in the mountains are coating the valleys in smoke and eerie-colored skies. Nature and politics are colliding to paint a chilling scene. 

And with that, the reading this Sunday warned of the end of the world—when fire will purify us all or burn us away.

Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble,
and the day that is coming will set them on fire,
leaving them neither root nor branch,
says the LORD of hosts.
But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays.
(Malachi 3:19-20)

“When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.”
Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.”
(Luke 21: 9-12)

For believers, the end of the world is not a scary image; it is the long-awaited conclusion, the relief from a fallen world. It is the waiting that hurts, the suffering, the stumbling, the abuse at the hands of others.

I wish it were easy. I wish being a Christian were not at conflict with prevailing social mores (both liberal and conservative). I wish Christianity were the guiding moral force. But the Church triumphs even when it’s out of power. Maybe it does even better when it’s out of power. I’m not in Syria/Iraq or Eritrea or North Korea. My life isn’t in danger for being Christian. But I am still challenged. The world is still burning. I must meet the fires in front of me before I can face the all-consuming fire. The Advent has just begun.