Romans 13: 11-12: Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light . . . .
Rev. Jim Mulcahy, our church development worker in Eastern Europe, says, “I am so grateful I was able to go (to Ukraine and Russia for MCC) . . . I shed so many tears with people, Nancy, I heard so many confessions, my clothes were wet from people crying on me . . . I will never laugh or sneer at the Apostle Paul again . . .” Ironically, we in MCC are experiencing the “gospel of the heart set free” that Paul was preaching, even as others continue to misuse his words against us!
For me, these particular verses from Romans 13 are pure poetry and remind me that our faith was born in the crucible of the Ancient Near East, not the West, in a time full of apocalyptic images, political oppression, and injustice.
About 15 years ago, after more than a decade of pastoring in an unrelenting, and frankly, apocalyptic, time of AIDS deaths, I took refuge in poetry, in writing it as well. It helped heal me and gave me strength for the next battle. All of us – even pastors and Elders – need places of refuge, shelters in the storm.
Sometimes, it is art, music, and poetry that can lift us beyond the present moment, where we wait for Hope to find us, where we trust God to lift us beyond survival — to that “peaceable Kin-dom” we long for.
This first Sunday of Advent, the readings may be poetic, but they are often apocalyptic, dark, and disturbing, shaking us awake, and not very gently! They ask us to get a grip, get ready, be alert, because God is on his/her way! It is time, NOW, to pay attention! Just as the culture is seasonally seducing us on every side to be distracted, cheerful, addicted to excesses, frivolous and greedy — we must do something else:
It is Advent, and World AIDS Day, all at once — ready or not, MCC. We are asked to be awake, available, vulnerable and willing. To write poems, songs, plays — to paint a future of love and justice for all Creation. To live our calling, every day, as our gift from a good God who is, after all, “Emmanuel, God with us,” in apocalyptic or just plain challenging times. Amen.