Christians marked the advance of Advent yesterday, the second of four Sundays leading to Christmas and the celebration of the arrival of the Christ child. Many of these believers, like me, struggle to reconcile their eager anticipation of this joyful celebration with the dark social and political climate that now divides us.
To help us in our contemplation, the trusted Oxford English Dictionary offers these definitions:
Reconcile: 3. to bring facts or statements, etc., into harmony or compatibility when they appear to conflict.
Advent: 1. The coming of Christ; the season (with four Sundays) before Christmas Day; 3. advent: the arrival of an important person, event, or development.
Adventure: 1. An exciting or dangerous experience; willingness to take risks.
Dichotomy: Division into two parts or kinds.
Advent always has felt like an adventure. That the words are so similar makes sense to me. The pending arrival of an important person or event does excite me. It always has. This excitement builds as we inch closer to the big day, which for those of us so blessed, is filled with loving acts in the company of those we love most.
That we are a people divided is undeniable, however, and it feels as if this dichotomy of folks who share so much that is good grows by the day.
Our challenge of reconciling the joy of Advent with the tension of division heightens our anxiety. We look at elected representatives in government and wonder what happened to the values that they presumably held for most of their lives. What changed them? Aren’t they the same people we once admired and respected? We struggle to deliver that respect now.
We wonder what has happened to those who do respect, even admire those in power who daily make decisions we deplore. How can they feel as they do? Doubtlessly they ponder the same question about us. We are divided.
Can we bring these realities from conflict into harmony? I believe we can. My faith assures me that we can. From the New Century Hymnal, used by the United Church of Christ, consider this final verse of the Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel:
“O come, Desire of Nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; make envy, strife, and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.”
May it be so.