I started working on a post at the beginning of last week for the second week of Advent. Writing now after midnight on Saturday, it’s clear I didn’t get there.
Catholic churches during Advent are subdued. There are no Christmas decorations to be seen, save a Giving Tree decorated with tags listing the name of a person and a suggestion for a gift. The color of the season, like three of the four candles on the Advent wreath, is purple. While Advent is a season of waiting, it’s also one of repentance. We repent because we’re aware that there is a difference between what we do, and who we say we are or want to be.
Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice. Three recent examples of this tension, or difference that folks in the U.S. are wrestling with. Who do we think we are? Who do we say we are? What do the actions of those who act on our behalf say? What does our discomfort with their actions say? What will we do? Anything? We are not yet who we wish to be.
Today is the two-year anniversary of the killing of twenty-six people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. In the last two years, there have been 23 more shootings in schools. We are not who we say we are. We are not yet who we wish to be.
Like many, I followed the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Torture Report on Tuesday. I found Andrew Sullivan’s live blogging of the report’s release gut-wrenching. As the self-proclaimed leaders of the free world, the report makes clear: We are not yet who we wish to be. How do we prepare the way of the Lord in this context? Where is God in our darkness?
That’s my question, and prayer. It may be yours as well. Certainly, it’s the prayer of the Brown, Garner, and Rice families. The prayer of the families of those who were killed in Newtown, CT. The prayer of the families of those who’ve been tortured in our name.
Where is God in our darkness? The Christian answer is a simple one. It’s so simple half the time Christians miss it completely. We think of Jesus as the one who defeated death. We claim Jesus’ triumph over sin, and forget his broken body that hung on the cross. We think of that triumph and forget the reminder in Matthew’s Gospel:
“‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’” (Mt 25:37-40, NRSV)
By extension, our question might be, “Lord, when did we find you on the cross?” That’s where God was–it’s where God, is. Paul J. Nuechterlein in a wonderful Advent homily concludes:
“As long as there is suffering in this world, that is where God will be. And, when we learn to find God there and go to be with God there, then won’t the suffering finally end? If everyone learns to find God and to be with God among the suffering, then who will be left to cause the suffering? Then, when we all learn where to find God and where to be with God, then will that Christmas prophecy of Isaiah come to fulfillment: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness–on them light has shined. For unto us a child is born; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2,6) Amen.”