Downtown Richmond, Virginia is gridlocked all this week. Steven Spielberg is here filming for his upcoming movie, Lincoln, due to be released in late 2012. The hub bub of this Hollywood presence even makes the evening news….
And today is the day to remember Channing Moore Williams, born in Richmond Virginia in 1829, ordained a deacon in 1855, and left Virginia as a missionary to China and Japan in the midst of the growing fever pitch that finally culminated in the American Civil War. It is an interesting thought to ponder –that while this nation was wracked in increasing political gridlock and friction and the threat to the Union regarding the boundaries of States’ rights and equality-liberty-and-justice for all, Williams chose to look beyond the horizons of his nativity and set his sight on Asia.
Hollywood and missionary zeal come full circle in the first week of Advent.
Some claim that the 19th Century missionary efforts of the Episcopal Church (and other churches as well) are part and parcel of the expansionist and imperialistic policies of the secular state. Others might claim that Williams is a wonderful and godly embodiment of The Great Commission given to all Christians –carrying the Good News to the furthest ends of the earth.
How and for what reasons do we carry the Good News of God in Christ? This juxtaposition of mission impetus highlights certain elements of the readings today. The prophet, Amos, laments and admonishes, saying,
Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins- you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. Seek good and not evil, that you may live. (Amos 5:11-14)
And– Jude writes, Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day. (Jude 5-6)
And– Jesus tells us the story of the wedding feast, those invited walking away, ignoring or too busy to respond, so the king sends out the invitation to the streets of the realms, to the good and bad alike, and the wedding hall is filled –but one guy didn’t wear a party suit, and the king said, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’ (Matthew 22:12-14)
There is an unmistakable thread of condemnation –beyond judgement, I’m hearing outright condemnation for those who don’t care for the poor, who hear and know and don’t respond to the call of God –to be ready, prepared for the unexpected invitation and feast. There are several possible responses a Christian might make to these calls to care, to respond, to prepare. Included among them are penance –participating in the Way of the Cross and engaging in bearing the sins of the world. Another way is to actively prepare in hope –prepare for the unexpected inbreaking and revelation of what awaits us all on the other side of judgement.
It is Advent –a time of active preparation and hope. With Channing Moore Williams in mind, it is the perfect time to lift our eyes from our local context, pressures, and conflicts –time to look beyond the horizons of our own nativity to the nativity announced in the skyline of the star –following its light, leaving our habitations and comfort zones, and do all those things necessary to prepare for the great Kingdom feast –not in fear of judgment (there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God which we have in Christ Jesus), but in hope and for the joy that is in us.
Margaret Watson is a priest in the Diocese of Virginia. She writes daily morning prayer reflections at her blog Leave It Lay Where Jesus Flang It.