As we approach Christmas, a season of peace and joy, this year we find ourselves functioning against a backdrop of social unrest. Maybe that unrest has always been there. Perhaps this year it’s only a matter of degree.
Certainly the story of the first Christmas is set in an atmosphere of some unrest. Caesar Augustus had called for a mass census that required the people to return to their natal villages. The citizenry was on the move. There would have been occupying forces evident everywhere to maintain the peace. The people knew that Roman soldiers witnessed to the power of the Empire and were not to be defied. Jesus was born into this world, rife with tension.
We Christians are to take this “Prince of Peace” as our model. Through his life, death, and resurrection we say we are reconciled to God. Bishop Sean Rowe of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, in a Nov. 14 piece in “The Morning Call,” wrote that “reconciliation is not a synonym for the silencing of dissent.” This coming season admonishes us not to shy from this work whatever its form might take. Like Jesus we, too, are to be reconcilers, what the Prophet Isaiah called, “repairers of the breach.”
The Christmas story reminds us that there have always been places where breaches exist – where children are born into inequality; where power has been wielded by the few; where oppression has shown its face – even to the Christ Child. But Jesus’ birth was not the whole of his life. He grew to stand with the downtrodden and the marginalized, and in doing so showed them their inherent worth. He was no respecter of position or power, political or religious. And, after 33 years he accepted the temporal consequences for it all.
This coming Christmas season we might well ask, “What are the systems and structures that would lead us to dissent if we actually were to follow the Christ?” and “What are the breaches in our society that we are called to repair?”
Identifying them, we must first ask ourselves the hard question, “Do we really want to give ourselves to that task?” It is, no doubt, monumental – larger than even our best efforts will be able to affect in any significant way. And besides, if we look to Jesus, we know where it will lead us.
For those of us whose inclination is to step forward on behalf of those who are being left out, thrown out, or ignored by the systems within which we all live, there is a way. It is by joining together. Doing that will not shield us from the consequences of our actions, but that is not the point. The point is to enlarge the face of our dissent ... the face of our compassion and our love. I wonder what life would be like for us right now if, joining with our dissenting nonreligious brothers and sisters, all we Christians were to step forward as one.
As I write this, the Church is in the preparatory season of Advent. While Advent brings us to Christmas and our celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, it is actually a time to anticipate and prepare for what is often called Christ’s “second coming.” I know scripture talks about Jesus returning on the clouds, but we also talk about us, the followers of Jesus, being the Body of Christ, and on the clouds we are not.
What if we are the second coming of Christ? What if Jesus’ return and the reign of peace and equality that he inaugurated in his lifetime, will come to its fullness in us? Maybe we have only to get over being a tepid, thin, incomplete, shadow-version of his Body. Maybe Advent challenges us, not to wait for Jesus coming on the clouds, but to incarnate the Christ ourselves.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.