Year C Advent 1: a new thing

I don’t know about you, but I am ready for this Advent. I am ready for God to do a new thing, which is what Advent is about: God breaking through our routines and rituals and riots and routs to do something new and innovative and unexpected; something wonderful. We do not know what it will be, and we get mixed messages, frankly, from the Bible and its history. Will God come in humility, as in the Incarnation, as vulnerable and human as an infant born in the Middle East before the Middle Ages, such a short and difficult life, which had such an impact? Will God come in the night, by stealth, wrestling as with Jacob at the Jabbok brook, walking as with Daniel through the lions’ den? Will God come silently, in the ringing stillness that assaults our ears after the earthquake and the bomb blast and the storm? Or will this time, this time will God come in clouds with great glory, trumpeting from heaven with angel hordes and terrifying power?

Maybe one person’s humility is another’s glory; towards the end of Advent we sing with Mary the Magnificat, which raises up the lowly, even as the mighty are cast down, and proud imaginations scattered.

We do not know exactly what new thing God will do in our lives on any given day, in any given season. We can and we do pray and discern where we are called to do a new thing in our own lives, in the life of our family, our community, our church, called and enabled by God. But God is less predictable than we are.

So Luke’s advice is to continue to pray and to discern and to act. Do not be side-tracked, he says, by dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this world. Stay alert. On a personal level, this might literally be about drunkenness; about not allowing ourselves to be seduced by the temptation to alter our reality only in our own perception, only temporarily; whether through the use of alcohol or food or over-consumption, inappropriate relationships with people or with things – the list goes on, and each of us has our own personal litany. The temptation to temporary distractions and distortions of our lives is one thing we might want to pay attention to this Advent, warns Luke.

In the lives of our communities, it might have to do with our society’s drunken addiction to violence.  I really don’t want to go here again – I wish that we would do a new thing. But one of the number of disturbing deaths that we witnessed this week was that, replayed on camera, of Laquan McDonald, aged 17, of Chicago; a video that I have not and cannot watch. The day after it was released, Bishop Jeffrey Lee, of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, issued a statement, in part:

“The video of Laquan’s death, released by the mayor’s office just hours after the officer was charged with first-degree murder, makes it impossible for us to turn away from the violence that has been done in our name by this police officer and by too many other police officers who are charged with protecting us. It makes it impossible for us to discount the power of systemic racism to distort our community. And it makes it impossible for us to tell ourselves that the peril of being young and black in Chicago is not our problem.”

A year after the death of Tamir Rice, still under investigation, we might remind ourselves how impossible it is for any of us to tell ourselves that the peril of being young and black in Cleveland is not our problem. If we really do love one another, then it really is our collective problem.

One more mass murder this week took the life of a dedicated police officer who was trying to save lives, no doubt indiscriminately. The issue is not only black, white, or black and blue. Our addiction is not only to racism and the abuse of power, but to the violence which our disconnection and disenchantment with one another leads.

After yet another mass shooting yesterday, President Obama commented,

“This is not normal. We can’t let it become normal. If we truly care about this — if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience — then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them.”

If we are to pray with a clean conscience, then, God knows, we need to do something about cleaning up our collective and our cultural act, the drunkenness and dissipation that assaults it.

In the life of our church, perhaps that is where we might focus this Advent: on examining our conscience and our culture, and determining whether we are truly offering the people of God real change, real progress towards the kingdom of God, rather than temporary relief. Discerning whether we are addressing the real issues that confront us: those of racism and reconciliation; those of mistrust, misogyny, misrepresentation; those things that kill our children and their parents; those that cause us legitimate fear and trembling. Maybe we can try to get beyond and behind those things that disconnect and disenchant us, so that we can love one another as God intended; fall in love with one another anew.

During Advent, in our coffee hour, I invite us to engage some of these important conversations. Christians are called to be leaders in our community, agents of the state of God, provocateurs of peace and reconciliation. It has to begin within ourselves. If you are willing to engage in conversation about the things that disconnect and disenchant us with one another, then I invite you to gather around the last table in the Guild Room during coffee hour to share what it is we need to talk about.

If we are to pray with a clean conscience, then we cannot simply get drunk on our Communion week by week; but we need to pray soberly, truthfully, watchfully, pray constantly, and hopefully, for the permanent change of status that we long to see in the world: Christ’s kingdom come.

The book of Jeremiah is mostly full of dire predictions of doom. It is all the more striking, then, when from his own prison cell, in the middle of the siege of Jerusalem and in fear for his own life and the life of his city, his community, God’s people, Jeremiah offers this assurance, that the days are surely coming when the kingdom of God’s anointed will be seen on the earth. In a world of turmoil and temporary distractions, the one thing that is sure and always certain is that God will do a new thing, is always doing a new thing, because it is part of the character of God to be creative, and it is part of the nature of Christ to save us, and it is the part of the Holy Spirit to inspire us.

Be alert, then, says Luke. Be ready, because who knows what God will do with us next.


About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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