They don’t know the way of peace; there’s no justice in their paths. They make their roads crooked; no one who walks in them knows peace. Because of all this, justice is far from us, and righteousness beyond our reach. We expect light, and there is darkness; we await a gleam of light, but walk around in gloom. Isaiah 59:8-9 (CEB)
I read an article the other day from the site State of Formation. This is a dedicated body of up and coming religious leaders from multiple faiths who speak out on issues of ethics and morality. The article I read was entitled: “Tearing Down Christmas Lights: The Reason for the Season.”
In this article, the author discusses the “charades of peace” we have established in our society that mask injustice and oppression. In Chicago, one of those charades of peace was the brightly lit and festively adorned mayoral Christmas tree. Protestors, fed up with the charade, took it upon themselves to remove the lights from the tree. We are living in a time of darkness, they seemed to say. So let’s stop pretending otherwise.
Last month, as another giant Christmas tree was unveiled at the Vatican, Pope Francis addressed the world with these words:
“Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and Nativity scenes…it is all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path…We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace…”
Advent, true advent, is a season of darkness. The people of Jesus’ time were living under the oppressive regime of the Roman empire. Like our world today, the world Jesus came into was violent and unjust. There was economic, racial, and religious disparity. Those who had continued to gain more, while those who had not were continually persecuted. People were judged based on their economic status, their ethnicity, their gender, and their religious beliefs. Very few deigned to reach a helping hand out to the least of these. And, there was no peace.
As in Isaiah’s time, people awaited a gleam of light, but walked around in the gloom.
In our culture today, we rush headlong into the Christmas season, willfully choosing to forgo the darkness of Advent. We forget that the true beauty of Christmas comes after time spent in the darkness. How can we appreciate that light if we ignore the darkness into which it sparks?
This Advent season, I would encourage you to spend some time living in the darkness. Look at the world around us–the dark, violent, unjust world that we have created. And remember that it was into this darkness God himself chose to come. The darkness is not where the story ends.
As Jesus followers, we don’t stop in the darkness. Rather, it is our job to carry the light into the darkness. Rather than continuing the charades of peace, we need to expose the true light of love. How do we do this? There are many ways, some simple, others more complex. We expose the light of love when we:
- sit with a friend undergoing cancer treatments
- bring meals to those who are not able to provide for themselves
- speak words of encouragement and support to those who are struggling
- grieve with those who are mourning loss
- donate food, clothing, toys, school supplies, toiletries, etc… to local food pantries, shelters, nursing homes, or children’s hospitals
- visit those members of your community who are hospitalized, in nursing homes, or shut-ins
- coach someone seeking employment through the job-hunting process
- volunteer to tutor a child struggling in school
- give the gift of hope through organizations like Heifer International and the Rainbow Network
- stand in solidarity with those who are protesting acts of discrimination and injustice
- welcome those into our midst who are different from us
- establish cross-cultural relationships
- forgo argumentative language and opt for thoughtful and respectful discussions about important issues of justice
- write notes of encouragement to those working for justice and peace, including law enforcement officers, military personnel, and civic and community activists
- contact Congressional representatives at the state and national levels about important justice issues
- practice kindness
- say thank you and mean it