God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, edited by Greg Pennoyer, Paraclete Press, 2007, is one of our favorite Advent resources. Eugene Peterson concludes his introduction – “Christmas forces us to deal with all the mess or our humanity in the context of God who has already entered that mess in the glorious birth of Jesus.”
Our humanity is really, really messy this Advent. The Body of Christ is experiencing a deadly virus which is forcing us to face the fear, guilt, cynicism, oppression present in our lives…to use the words from Grain of Wheat Church-Community Advent liturgy. It’s easy to see and feel the darkness of fear of getting or giving COVID 19, the darkness of feeling guilty I’m not doing enough to help, the darkness of my cynicism that leaders aren’t doing enough or too much, the darkness of the overall oppression as we try and stay home, isolated from the ones who can lift our spirits. That darkness envlopes our souls, and makes heavy our hearts.
Some of you know the encouraging words which come next in this wonderful liturgy, but wait for it. Advent is, after all, a season of penitence, an opportunity to wait in the darkness and confusion. Not to wallow in it, but to give it an opportunity to teach us something. One of my favorite questions nowadays is “What have your learned from COVID 19 so far?” What can the 2020 season of Advent say to us – about how God is with us? According to Richard John Neuhaus (God With Us, p.17) “The great question is not whether we have found God but whether we have found ourselves being found by God.” Sitting in the dark with these kinds of questions could make this strange, unique, scary Advent a special time of emotional and spiritual growth.
Steve Bell’s musical version of St. Francis’s poem, Our Need of Thee, begins “Darkness is an unlit wick” and the chorus reminds us, over and over (harmonizes by Steve’s daughter Sarah) “…don’t the caged ones weep.” Remind you of anyone or anything. COVID 19 had caged our planet, our businesses, our homes, our lives and weeping is a proper response.
St. Francis, translated by Daniel Ladinsky, begins this poem with “In our ever present need for thee: Beloved, let us know your peace.” and concludes – “There is a courageous dying, it is called effacement. That holy death unfurls our spirit’s wings and allows us to embrace God even as we stand on the earth.”
God with us, in the midst of infectious disease, death and darkness, is our peace. “Darkness is an unlit wick: it just needs your touch, Beloved, to become a sacred flame. And what sadness in this world could endure if it looked into your eyes?”
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