Subversive Children of the Light: an Advent Meditation from the Dean

NOVEMBER 30, 2014

“Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light…”
From the Collect for Advent 1

"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake -- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
From Mark 13:24-37

“Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.”
Henry Steele Commager, American historian, professor at Amherst

The Bible hands down to us voices of faith. Tradition means “passed from hand-to-hand.” Voices of Faith – in given times and across time - are found in Biblical poems, prayers, stories and laments. All represent real lives – our ancestors’ lives and our lives, the nitty-gritty of them, the ups and downs, successes and failures, the little and not-so-little deaths, and the new beginnings and births.

Elie Wiesel said: “Poets exist so that the dead may vote.” In the Biblical traditions we find constant reminders that God is present, in loss and in darkness. Are we surprised to find God in those “God-forsaken” places? Perhaps our being surprised by that fact that God is there is the real “surprise.” It is true that the dead vote, as they surround us across time. But we are also raised up to new challenges and opportunities.

These voices knit together a reality that educates our imaginations, as they progress through the life cycles of faith and doubt, harvest and famine, life and death. We are called in a special way each Advent, to cast off the works of darkness.

But doing so does not mean pretending that the darkness does not exist. Rather we are summoned to make choices in the dark moments of our lives. To some, our baptismal liturgy may seem odd or archaic, as we renounce the works of the Devil. We say that we will take God’s side over and against the side of the Devil. People often have asked me whether or not I believe in The Devil or Satan. What I know for certain is that there is a battle between good and evil going on – between God’s plan and the forces that endeavor to draw us from it.

How might you update such language, so that you can acknowledge that this battle is going on in your life or in the world around us? What language would you choose to describe the battle: hierarchical leadership or power, oppression, the loss of human dignity, the disparity of wealth and distribution of resources, squandering of the elements of creation essential to life – air and water?

We become disorientated when we are besieged by the forces of darkness. Their unsettling forces can be ruthlessly intimidating. Who are we in the midst of devastating loss? When those we trusted betray us? When evil reigns supreme and good seems to have been emasculated.

Then we can become disillusioned – no longer vulnerable to the untruths about darkness and light: the simple answers, the Pollyannaish view that things will just get better, and we become distressed when things do not unfold as we had hoped or planned.

New discoveries are possible when we courageously face into these realities of the darkness. In the midst of them we can be led through and back to truer and more authentic selves. Then open to us opportunities of renewal, rebirth and new life.

Jerusalem’s story itself is imbued with those same cycles of life, and hopes and doubts. That Holy City shows us that what has been plucked, plundered, captive, broken, enslaved, overtaken and lost can, by the power of God, be restored. The Voice of Advent renews such acts of hope as these hymns, laments, thanksgiving, blessings and curses keep us from denying the truths about life – we dare to admit to and then confront the darkness, evil, and death.

These are subversive narratives because they prevent and protect us from our tendency not to tell the truth – either by self deception or communal denial.

They prevent and protect us from the dangerous kind of spiritualizing that somehow diminishes the importance of what God is most concerned with: justice, human dignity; stewardship of creation, righteousness – all brought to the Throne of God. Come again and be with us, O God.