On the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, many Western Christians begin a season of reflection called Advent, the official beginning of the church year and a great time to "restart." Historically, Advent has been a season of penitence, looking back to the suffering of Jesus Christ in behalf of humankind and forward to the story of Christ's birth on Christmas Day--- recognition of the story of a gift of uncommon hope in a suffering world.
In theory, things should be looking up for Christians and the world we are called to serve by the end of Advent on Christmas Eve. Yet this year Christendom seems to be back-sliding rather than reaching the summit. It seems we have forgotten the real reasons for the season of Advent -- introspection and repentance.
Advent is an essential spiritual journey of individuals and congregations and, dare I suggest, the mischaracterized Christian Nation, if we are to incorporate the name of Christ in our global propaganda about ourselves and our beliefs. It matters not to proclaim Christ has come, that He is with us now, and that He will come again, if we fail to recognize that our beliefs must be the basis for our ethics and for our civility.
Words don't mean much as we fail miserably in doing Christ's work in justice seeking and care-taking for humankind. Lately I have been worrying that we are misery-mongers more than misery-relievers.
As Advent begins and the church celebrates history turning upside down in the Incarnation of Christ, we Christians have an extraordinary chance to confess our own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself."
These admonitions are repeated in other faith traditions as well, but for today, I am focused only on the tradition that raised me because I am deeply concerned about our future. I sat at lunch last week with a large group of Christians and the topics of conversation were painful -- there were more people and groups castigated over sushi than the choices on the menu. Poor people on welfare, people addicted to substances, unwed mothers, gay people, young people in the Occupy movement and "liberals" were bashed and summarily dismissed. I came away from that gathering really sad because I think the people who were charged by Christ to find the lost are lost.
The work of Christ is stated again and again in the New Testament Bible -- to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers and to bring comfort to the hopeless.
We are, as Christians, charged to be the catalysts of extraordinary second chances for those who are suffering -- to be the people outstretching helping hands.
Sadly, the world is experiencing many of us who profess Christ as having hands that are no longer safe to grasp. Some of us Christians coquettishly take the hand of a person drowning or slipping from a perch and jerk them into a horror chamber of shame and blame or let go just when safe landing seems reachable. Perhaps worse, some of us never extend a hand at all.
We have been deluged in recent weeks with what the polls say about presidential candidates and it occurs to me that Christendom, like our beleaguered hope-to-be-electeds, is not fairing well in the court of public opinion.
Perhaps this Advent can bring revolution within the Christian church -- to inspire us to use our power and privilege to heal and not to harm, to help and not to hinder, to bless and not to curse. May we learn to see things backwards, inside out, and upside down. May we understand that the line separating good and evil passes, not through parties, states, not between classes, not between those considered sinners and those who consider themselves "better," but the line separating good and evil passes right through human hearts (Alexander Solzhenitsyn).