Our church has a tradition of creating an Advent “waiting room” which is simply our church courtyard lit with white mini bulbs. The light is soft and dim, and the air is cold. We shiver together and sip hot chocolate as we wait to be invited inside. Last Sunday evening I distinctly remember thinking that what made this cold and dark wait tolerable, even enjoyable, was sharing it with friends as we recalled our week’s journeys, and teased and chatted. But waiting is rarely so easy.
Those simple memories of moments shared became a warm wrap of assurance for what was to come. There were two mass shootings in the following week, one in Georgia and then in San Bernardino. This year there have been more mass shootings (defined by 3 or more victims) than there are days in the year. This is one of the darkest and coldest Advents I can remember.
I had had a pretty Advent blog post all ready to go. But I felt despondent and angry. The senseless and violent loss of life was abhorrent enough, but this last heartbreaking event seemed to only serve to polarize people even more than ever. Many seemed to entrench themselves even deeper into their ideologies, wearing them like bulletproof vests as if they have the power to save. Most disturbingly, the resoluteness of what is now so much of American Christianity – this civil, nationalistic religion that is so often diametrically opposed to the ways of Jesus – seemed to become more unyielding.
I resonate with Karl Rahner’s cry, “You were supposed to redeem us from ourselves and yet you, who alone are absolutely free and unbounded, were ‘made’ even as we are. Of course I know that you remained what you always were, but still, didn’t our mortality make you shudder, you the Immortal God? Didn’t you, the broad and limitless Being, shrink back in horror from our narrowness? Weren’t you, absolute Truth, revolted at our pretense?”
I am revolted by it.
This American “Christianity” has lost its way. It has shrunken its identity to being defined by an orthodoxy test. One can say they believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God, and that he was crucified and raised from the dead, and then live as if that great love has no further bearing on our lives.
Most people recognize by now that the religious right was formed in the 1980’s largely as a political ploy to guarantee the conservative Christian vote. That group has now become utterly consumed by right wing politics and ideologies. It has become thoroughly individualistic in focus through the emphasis on a personal ticket to heaven and a blessed life if you have enough faith. The needs of the world are not secondary; they barely even matter except to serve those two points.
The way of Jesus moves in a completely different way.
In a culture where his own brethren were oppressed by the violence and power of the Roman Empire, Jesus taught the mystifying way of peace.
American “Christianity” clings to its guns like a golden calf.
In a culture where only those who were deemed worthy and clean by religious leaders could enter the temple and worship God, Jesus touched a bleeding women, healed those deemed unclean by disease, and welcomed the sinner.
American “Christianity” defines itself by who is allowed in and who is not.
In a culture where the high religious scoffed at the poor openly, Jesus showed no preference for the “deserving poor.” He fed the hungry and healed the sick.
American “Christianity” applauds spending more than half the federal budget on war machine, and strains at gnats: the relatively small amounts of money for food stamps and health care subsidies. We turn our backs on the poor and hungry.
In a culture where the highly religious could easily pass by a wounded man in the road, Jesus applauded the love of an outsider – a Samaritan- for his genuine care for him.
American “Christianity” wants to withhold healthcare from those who have not earned it in their eyes.
In a culture where the stranger was always suspect, Jesus made space at his table.
American “Christianity” has turned its back on the refugee who is fleeing unspeakable violence due to political and military unrest in his homeland. Like Jesus, the refugee has nowhere to lay his head.
In a culture where strict adherence to the practices of the religious law could bring power and honor,
Jesus made it clear that what we do to the least of these – the suffering one, the hungry and thirsty one, the outcast and stranger, is what we do to him.
American “Christianity” has become an allegiance to dogma and behavior that makes us feel upright and safe. It circles the wagons of loyalty around us. It also protects us from God and all that the Kingdom asks of us. We remain safely unchanged.
So waiting outside in the cold, aching to get inside, aching for things to be made right I hear the Advent story ask, “Do you see?” Advent is, above all else, a call to consciousness, says Richard Rohr. It is meant to wake us up.
Indeed, in this time of waiting, we can attune to profound ache of the world and let it be a harsh and wondrous wake up call. Many are beginning to see that this civic, nationalistic religion is not the way of Jesus. Many are weary of a religiosity that marginalizes the poor and less advantaged, that cares little for the plight of the refugee and stranger, and has what Ben Corey calls a “sadistic fetish” with guns. Many are waking up and seeing that we have exchanged the truth of the Good News for the lie of a civic religion. Many are awakening to a longing for Shalom, peace on earth.
Rahner continues, “Slowly a light is beginning to dawn. I have begun to understand what I have known for a long time. You are still in the process of your coming….It is said that you will come again and this is true. But the word again is misleading. It won’t really be another coming, because you have never really gone away. In the human existence that you made your own for all eternity, you have never left us.”
We wait for the Light to come, and yet the Light is already here.
Advent allows us to re-examine our own ache that longs for the coming of God in our midst, not just for ourselves, but also for the flourishing of all. Advent opens up a space in us to receive God who is not revolted by our narrowness and pretense, but who is pleased to be with us, as us, as we are. It can even open up that space in me for them, lest I cast them out as they cast out others. In this time when so much of Christianity has lost the plot, Advent is opportunity for us all to begin anew. Then, like Jesus, we can dive right into the world with only faith, hope and love as our accoutrements. This is when I can believe again that God’s love will always have the last word.
Welcome Advent, welcome Christmas. May the Christ, the God who loves in flesh and bone, right here, right now, be birthed in us this season.