“Advent is not a time to declare, but to listen,
to listen to whatever God may want to tell us
through the singing of the stars, the quickening of a baby…”
– Madeleine L’Engle
For almost an eternity, it seems I’ve been told (and have said myself) that Advent is a time of waiting. For little kids, it’s about anticipating Christmas celebrations, opening Advent calendars one window at a time, smelling luscious aromas of baking cookies and decorating them is a manner that would make Jackson Pollock jealous. But what of us older folks?
What are we waiting for? Surely not a new sled under the Christmas tree. To be sure, we anticipate gatherings and carols (which we sang wonderfully at First Name Club last Thursday!). But for those with a more mature faith, what is waiting all about?
I’ve never been a particularly patient person, and we live in a culture that doesn’t value waiting. Are we waiting for the Kingdom of God to come? We pray for God’s realm to come twice each Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer, as our forebears in the faith have done for 2,000 years, but it still hasn’t come in its fullness. School shootings happen, pandemics happen, wars happen, homelessness happens, global warming happens, and the list goes on.
Yet, there are significant ways that life is better now than ever…even if it doesn’t feel that way to us. Our efforts and those of our forebears are yielding fruit! In 1900, women couldn’t vote, “separate but equal” was the racial law of the land, and LGBTQ folks were deeply in the closet. In 1900, about 85% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty (today that figure in 10%). Child mortality has shrunk from 35% of kids dying before the age of five to 4% today. Educational attainment in 1900 was such that 65% of the world’s population had no formal education; today 14% of the world’s population has no education. Literacy has grown from 20% in 1900 to 85% today. (source: https://ourworldindata.org/a-history-of-global-living-conditions-in-5-charts) Life expectancy has increased dramatically. In the US in 1900, life expectancy was 49 years and today it is 79 years. (source: ourworldindata.org/life-expectancy) Global peace is markedly better than it has been in the past 100 years with the fewest battlefield deaths…in the wake of the bloodiest century ever with two World Wars. (source: www.visionofhumanity.org/world-become-peaceful-since-wwi/)
The Social Gospel movement in this country lasted from the end of the Civil War through the First World War, when it was judged to be overly optimistic. After all, how could God let WWI happen? Were the Social Gospelers just wearing rose-colored glasses? I don’t think so. They were working for real reform in racial justice, industrial working conditions (especially for women and children), and to promote the Kingdom of God here and now, imperfect as it is. The above data may give us reason to hope and to think that the Social Gospel movement had some impact (as it surely did on the Progressive Movement in the early 1900s and the New Deal in the 1930s).
Are we waiting for the Second Coming? Some Christians do, and they pin their hopes of God cleaning up the mess that we humans have created. And perhaps that will happen, but in the meantime, I find it helpful to focus on what we can do while we wait, namely, to love kindness, do justice, and walk humbly with God.
We have a long way to go, but at least while we wait for “God’s glorious reign of peace,” we can appreciate the progress we made instead of just wring our hands for the ways we fall short. And we can listen…listen for the murmurings of the Spirit, for the sounds of hope, the singing of the stars.
Blessed Advent to you!
P.S. If you need help finding the “On Being” poetry readings that accompany our Advent Devotional readings this week, here they are:
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal here.