Yesterday afternoon was the Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony at the University of St. Thomas, an event attended by students, faculty, staff and those living near the university campus in St. Paul. The program, which was intentionally short because it was conducted outside, included an Advent Message.
It was my privilege to be invited to deliver the Advent Message for the ceremony. Here is the message I shared:
There is a song by Leonard Cohen titled Everybody Knows. Its lyrics catalogue (as the title suggests) the things we all know: Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody knows that the good guys lose, everybody knows that the poor stay poor and the rich get rich, that everybody lies, that the deal is rotten, that the Plagues is coming. And — the song keeps telling us — that’s just how it goes. That’s inevitably and inexorably the way it is.
What is lacking in the vision presented in Cohen’s song is that which is the central message of Advent: Hope.
Advent is the time during which we “wait in joyful hope.”
Hope is not walking around with blinders. Hope does not mean we fail to see those situations where the dice are loaded and the good guys lose. Hope does not mean we ignore the pain of the poor staying poor and the rich getting rich.
But, but, but, it means we don’t accept that “that’s just how it goes.” We do not throw up our hands and say that’s just the way it is.
Throughout Advent we listen to readings from the Book of Isaiah, which opens with a scathing indictment of the people of Israel. God laments, “Sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children…Sons have I raised and reared, but they have disowned me.”
But even in the midst of judgment, while cataloging the great sins of the people and the extent to which they have fallen away from God – is the promise that things do not have to be this way.
The promise that the swords will be beat into plowshares, and the spears into pruning hooks.
The promise that in the midst of darkness there is light.
The promise that the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.
The promise that the Lord will destroy death forever and will wipe away the tears from all faces.
One preacher summarized Isaiah’s Advent message like this: “No matter how much the world shatters into pieces, we carry in ourselves a vision of wholeness that we all sense is our true home and that welcomes us.
And just as Isaiah called the people to repent and prepare the way of the Lord, we are called to do the same – not only in Advent, but in each day of our lives.
This is important. Our waiting is not passive. Isaiah’s vision of the kingdom requires our active participation. We don’t get to just sit around complacently and wait for the vision to become reality. (It’s not a: “I’ll just sit here and snooze a bit; wake me when the kingdom comes.”) Instead, we are called to labor with God, to participate in the transformation of the world.
And so we each need to be asking ourself: What will I do during this Advent to give reality to the rule of Immanuel? How will I commit myself – in Advent and every day – to my part in making manifest God’s Kingdom.