Monday, December 20, 2004

The Advent Season

During this time of Advent, our thoughts occasionally turn to the deeper meanings of the season. In the midst of all the superficial colorings that the modern celebration of consumption we call Christmas has become, we catch glimpses of the vital spirit that at one time radiated from a manger 2,000 years ago.

Whether one believes the ancient story, or accepts it as mythology, there are certain truths that emanate from it that still informs our season with a meaning much deeper than the mere materialistic crassness that has come to permeate our modern celebration of this winter holiday.

The longing for redemption is a common theme in much of our religion, literature, movies and other aspects of our culture. Even as a person who no longer has a belief in traditional understandings of western religion, there is a part of me that gravitates to the redemption story inherent in this Advent season.

For instance, the Gospel of Matthew has John the Baptist, appearing in the wilderness and uttering his wellknown refrain, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) According to this prophetic preacher who was later martyred, repentance was central to his understanding of the first Advent. What exactly is John getting at? What do we have to repent of?

In an informative and eye-opening book called Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, William Stringfellow, the Harvard educated lawyer, social critic and essayist, who spent a good portion of his life living a life of voluntary poverty, opines that in accordance with a more traditional rendering of the gospels, the character of this first Advent is radically political. It’s only due to the illiteracy of our current crop of right-wing civil religionists and church folk that this topic has been allowed to be preempted and usurped by the hucksters seeking to use Christ’s coming for their own personal and political capital.

As Stringfellow wrote, “The pioneer Christians, beleaguered as they were because of their insight, knew the message of both Advents is political. That message is that in the coming of Jesus Christ, the nations and the principalities and the rulers are judged in the Word of God.”

Later John is pressed to show the meaning of this repentance; his response is, “Bear fruits that befit repentance.”

If you take some time and read Luke 1:52-54, the politics of both Advents is once more emphasized.

I set all that up to say this; we have a leader who has been shameless in seizing upon his supposed faith in the Jesus of the First Advent. His followers, predominantly members of the illiterate portion of the church that Stringfellow made reference to, are also fixated on that First Advent, ignorant of the Second Advent that is inexorably tied to it. One cannot claim the first Advent without being cognizant of the Second Advent.

What is the significance of the Second Advent? Referring back to the passage in Luke, we see a God who will rein judgment down on the types of behavior that is being practiced by our current administration.

Here are but a few examples of the types of behavior that the Second Advent will judge:

-1.3 million more Americans fell below the poverty line; total Americans living in poverty—36 million.

-with heating costs projected to rise 24% this winter, our compassionate President, along with the other compassionate followers of Jesus have increased funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program by just $164 million, less than what is needed to cover the expected 24 % increase in home heating costs. In his 2002 fiscal year budget, compassionate conservative Bush tried to cut HEAP funding by $300 million; this despite higher unemployment rates and a colder winter.

-under Bush’s compassionate economic policies, median household incomes fell three consecutive years, from 2000-2003.

-our compassionately Christian President has presided over the greatest loss of jobs since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression.

-the numbers of Americans without health insurance increased nearly six million people to its current number of 45 million.

-Section 8 housing vouchers, which allow 2 million low-income Americans to keep a roof over their heads and maintain some sense of dignity, has seen allotments from the Federal Government lag behind demand. President Bush, who has never had to worry about a roof over his head, continues his efforts to cut benefits to 60,000 Americans depending on the vouchers for housing.

As Jesus clearly stated in the Gospels, “By their fruit (good works) you will recognize them (as my followers)” (Matthew 7:16, 20)

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