My mother, my daughter, life-giving Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us to a New Day.
See, I am with Child,
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve! My sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together
Life without end.
— Sr. Columba Guare © 2005 Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey
It’s weird sometimes, to be an American. It’s even stranger to be a Christian. Growing up in the buckle of the Bible belt is absolutely absurd. It all gets mashed up together. We pledge to the American flag at Vacation Bible School. I am not saying that’s wrong or right, I’m sure someone else has already done that. What I am trying to say is that it gets hard to tell one thing from the other. So much of the tradition and culture just overlaps, so that it’s hard to tell this thing from that other thing.
And then around the time I was born, that big Religious Right, Moral Majority happened and everything got even more twisty. Huge swaths of believers fell into lock step with each other, educating and disciplining their kids this way, voting that way, expressing Patriotism this way. I was around 9 or so when Clinton was elected and I just absorbed the notion during that election that Christians are Republicans and Republicans are Christians and it’s all so simple, you see. It could have been on the cover of the glossy trifold brochures in my church’s foyer that laid out in plain English what each party stood for in a way that only a complete heathen could think actually offered a choice. I identified as a Republican many years before I cast my first ballot for George W. Bush.
It turns out, it’s not so simple after all.
I think many of us approached the 2016 election with the same expectations God’s people had when they were waiting for their Savior 2,000 years ago.
After generations on generations of oppression and diaspora, they were longing for a good King to wear the crown, overthrow the tyrants and establish God’s kingdom on earth. They wanted to be safe. They wanted to make babies and raise them in peace and without dread. They wanted what I want.
I think of Mary, her young, tear stained face. She was so far from home, from her own mother and the women who should have been there to breathe and moan and push and cry with her as she brought forth this long-awaited baby. She was without comfort and security. Birth always brings us low, down to our elemental selves. Everything is stripped away and there is nothing in the world in the end but the mama and the baby and the work and the instincts. I think about Mary, never without tears in my eyes, because I understand at least a shadow of what she must have felt in her heart and body as she worked and suffered for the hope of the whole world.
I can imagine, if I had lived then, that I would have grumbled and been quite suspicious. This was not the way a king was supposed to come. This is not the way proper order was to be restored. God’s people had suffered long and well and didn’t the prophet say the government would sit on his shoulders? I guess that’s why a literal angel had to appear to tell of his birth. We would never have suspected God’s plan for humanity’s hope would come this way.
So, why was I so shocked when God didn’t send America a wise king in 2016? I should have known. I should have known the kingdom doesn’t come like that; through corporately funded campaigns and back room dealings. There’ll be no savior in that big white house, not now, not ever. That’s not the way the kingdom comes.
The kingdom comes through laboring mothers, writhing and roaring new life to be raised in tender care to be tender leaders. The kingdom comes in pots of some other mother’s chili simmering on my stove because she knows how hard it is sometimes. The kingdom comes in my students looking out for the quiet one among them as they give him the gift of being heard. The kingdom comes in my house, with my husband, when we choose to look at each other with kindness in our eyes although annoyance is an easier option and always so readily available. The kingdom comes when my friend arrives at my father’s bedside, just as he is leaving forever, to sing him home. Doesn’t everyone deserve to be sung home like that? The kingdom comes when my friend holds his tiny baby in a beautiful box in the foyer of a beautiful church and gives us all the opportunity to grieve with mama, to grieve her baby, and finally grieve ours, too. The kingdom comes when that Dutch church holds weeks of continuous worship services to shelter their friends from deportation. The kingdom comes when we turn toward the hungry and suffering and move in love. The kingdom can come through criminal justice reform and compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform, affordable healthcare, and a million other wrongs made right. The kingdom can come in you and in me, and when it does, it can change everything. The kingdom comes the Jesus way, the way we least expect.
This is the first week of Advent, and we light the candle of hope. It’s quite fitting, isn’t it? All the darkness that presses in and pushes down with every tap of the screen, every scroll through the news. What a beautiful act of total rebellion, to light a humble candle in our homes and watch it light up the faces of our little ones and not so little ones, too. This suffering, this darkness, this fear that can feel so powerful to us does not win! In small ways and in huge ones, I will light the darkness with the hope I have. I will rebel against the darkness and scatter it with The Light. I will remember the bruised heel crushing the head of our enemy and proclaim hope until He comes.
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored.
Holy is his name.
He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”