The Need for Advent
I need Advent this year. This year it’s beyond enjoyment. I need it. In years past, I approached Advent as a personal “God, fix me or help me (usually with infertility issues)” season. This year Advent pulls me to think of justice and hope in a systemic way, incorporating Church, U.S. government and culture.
The election season is over, and we wait in the space between regime changes. I waffle between fear and rage with a side dish of overwhelmed indifference when white privilege and economic privilege means I’m less likely to be personally affected by the fall-out — even as ethically and morally, I’m appalled. And then, guilt comes to visit as I work to understand my own privilege and figure out how to engage in these conversations about racism, sexism and a whole bunch of other -isms.
It’s tempting to opt for likeability and feel-good thoughts. The way to calm seas looks like ducking my head for fear of saying a hurtful or controversial word. But, that choice is not the way of Jesus.
Borrowing lyrics from Guys and Dolls, I’m not about to nicely “sit down and quit rocking the boat.”
Isaiah’s Restorative Justice
While I wrestle with a sense of smallness this Advent, I find myself drawn to the book of Isaiah. And if you don’t have a plan for Bible reading this December, I invite you to join me in reading. All of Isaiah. In order. Not necessarily in one sitting. But, if you can swing it, by all means go for it.
As Isaiah looked out on the problems of the kingdom of Judah, he prophesied. I’m tempted as I read it solo to listen for a word just for me and to reduce God’s intentions to the realm of personal and private.
But, Isaiah addressed public and systemic issues head on, and Isaiah has something to teach us beyond “Messiah forgives.” Isaiah is not a book about cheap grace, it’s a book about restorative justice. And perhaps in this climate, we need this reminder more than ever.
Forgiveness is not cheap. Forgiveness is not license to keep doing the same evil over and over again. Grace is meant to transform us. Restorative justice is about transformation in us, so that we grow and stop doing the destructive things. It’s not eye for an eye, so much as love changing us. There’s no end to “eye for an eye” retributive justice; we’ll all end up blind and dead.
But that doesn’t mean the harm we cause others is cheaply excused.
Hope is found in forgiveness and responsibility. We have to take ownership of the harm we did and seek to do better — not just demand that our offenses be forgotten.
As I read Isaiah 1 this morning, I realized my familiarity with the part about scarlet sins being made white as snow (1:18), and noticed how that verse is often disconnected from the note about obedience and rebellion (1:19). We find grace and healing as we take responsibility instead of running from it.
As we go through the trappings of the holiday season and are eager to celebrate the birth of Jesus, let’s not get caught up in the motions. Hope, yes. And in our hope, let’s not forget the call toward justice. Rescue the oppressed, learn to do good, and seek justice (Is. 1:17).
True worship is inextricably connected to justice. Otherwise, our rituals are empty. We’ve given God lip service, but neglected to live as God calls.
We can sing all the carols, delight in Jesus’s birth, have the biggest nativity in our front yard. But, if our hearts harbor hatred, it’s all empty. We missed the point. God, who loves the whole world, expects us to do the same.
Maybe hatred is too strong a word for what the bulk of us do. Hatred implies active behavior. Perhaps indifference is more accurate. Indifference is passivity and willful ignorance.
As a white person, it’s easy to insulate myself in communities of people who look like me. If all my friends, family and neighbors are white, I can avoid thinking (and worse, caring) about justice issues people of color and immigrants are facing. If the only authors and theologians I read are white and male, I can avoid empathizing with people of color and women, and I can unconsciously assume that white men are THE experts on the world and Jesus. If I’m only reading or listening to voices that look like me, I’m missing some crucial perspectives that would teach me how to love others as Jesus loved.
I’m not saying white male voices are bad. I’m saying white voices are NOT the only voices to be heard, and listening only to white voices or only to male voices gives us myopic vision about the world.
It’s kind of like your doctor telling you to eat a variety of foods for a balanced diet. If all we hear is one kind of voice, we’re damaging our communities’ health in much the same way that only eating one thing would hurt our physical health.
Perhaps, giving the benefit of the doubt, those choices aren’t intentional or conscious indifference. Maybe we like what we like, and we consume what we like. Regardless, indifference, intentional or otherwise, hurts.
The indifferent choices lead us away from the path of love that God calls us toward. Love pushes us toward curiosity and engagement.
So, here’s my twofold request this week: start reading Isaiah and read a book or listen to a podcast by someone who doesn’t look like you.
Here are a couple of suggestions, if you need them.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates
Coates addresses his teenage son about the realities of being black in America. I woke to realities of my own privilege as I read. I gleaned some brilliant wisdom about parenting from Coates as well. I wept. I took notes. I learned. And I cannot forget his stories.
Raheb’s book encouraged me as I figure out what it means to speak about justice in the Trump era. Raheb challenged my assumptions about Palestine; his comment about the term “Middle East” sticks. He writes, “Middle of what? East of where?” The point being that the region was named relative to its geographic position to Europe. Even more poignant for me, Raheb pushes me toward active hope rather than passive resignation and fatalism.