The Christmas season is fully upon us, coming at us from all directions, and yet many of us practice a kind of resistance—a time of watching, and waiting, a time of settling in that resists the pull of Christmas commerce just a bit, and recognizes that there is something beautiful and complex in waiting and listening. The incessant drum-beat of consumerism is difficult to ignore. We are led to believe that our possessions proclaim who we are, and always seek to acquire more, and often we are urged to acquire these things without really thinking. Yet the story of Advent counters that message, lifting up waiting as not a time of deprivation but as a time of fulfillment and of purposefulness.
And within this context, there is yet another narrative of resistance that is pressing upon the consciousness of many in our country right now. On the streets of Ferguson, and St. Louis, Cleveland, Staten Island, and New York, and hundreds of other cities around the nation and around the globe, there have been other drumbeats as well: the drumbeats of marching feet, and the voices of those who cry out from a wilderness of deep lamentation, a wilderness of anger, of injustice, of mourning. There seems to be a resistance on some corners to acknowledging the legitimacy of that deep pain and suffering, a desire to seal ourselves off from the reality of that pain by judging those who suffer it. There is a wilderness within our own hearts, a hedge of brambles that too often separates us into opposing camps and allows us to justify casting off and discarding each other. Is there any hope, as the shadows lengthen in these days of early nightfall and late sunrise? Can we hear a call to us within our reading from Isaiah that speaks to us today?
Our passage from Isaiah (also referenced in Mark’s gospel for today) speaks to us to respond to a voice of one in the wilderness. That voice in the wilderness could also have been a voice of lamentation, a voice mourning for the trauma and the struggles that beset the people. In Jeremiah 31:15, we hear what that voice could have been– the voice of Rachel crying out for her children, filled with deep anguish and bitter weeping. When considering the protests that have broken out all across America and across the world in the last few months in particular, can we get to a place where we can consider the anguish and the mourning not just the anger from wish that deep sense of suffering springs? Can we also draw hope from that voice?
However, look closer. The voice we hear of in Isaiah chapter 40, and echoed in Mark, is a voice shaped by its sojourn in the trackless wastes of deprivation and suffering, but it is nonetheless a voice of that is refreshed by hope. Its first word to us is “comfort.” It calls to us while we are still mired within our pain, but provides us with a hope of a highway made straight through the desert of that suffering, a hope that sprouts up even in the midst of our pain and helps those marching feet to keep moving, one step after the other. That voice from the wilderness is also brought forth by the hope that we see ourselves anew, and, in seeing ourselves anew, see each other anew.
We hear the sound of lamentation and mourning in the streets of our cities—our modern version of the wilderness, even within the noise and neon glare that surrounds us. We hear the voice of lamentation within our own hearts, as we consider lives lost and other lives changed forever by that loss. Yet God is with us, even here. Especially here. And that voice recalls us to that truth. The story of Advent is a story of waiting- waiting for judgment as well as waiting for a new creation to be set in motion. Can we hear the voice of one who reminds us of what it really should mean when that voice proclaims, “Here is your God!”
Our Advent narrative seeks to remind us of the both the joy and the judgment that will come with the new dawn. After we have lived Advent, we can see that the message of the approaching Christmas is not just to have the wise bring gifts to the Christ child, but to have the strength and the wisdom to open our hearts to Christ’s message of empathy and justice as the necessary foundation to peace. In John’s gospel, Jesus tells us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Peace is Christ’s greatest gift to us, as we should remember in this season of giving. Yet it is up to us to nurture that peace.
As we wait this Advent, are we waiting for Christmas, or are we waiting for Christ? Are we preparing not just for the newborn Jesus, but for the return of Christ who calls us to be purified, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves? Are we waiting for that voice to call out from the wilderness? God is still speaking to us. Let us seek to prepare a way for the Lord into our own hearts, now more than ever.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She attends Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.