Welcome to the first week of Advent. If you are new to the liturgical calendar, Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and it marks the beginning of the liturgical year.
Advent is about waiting—waiting for God to show up. How we wait says a lot about what we are waiting for.
The next four weeks we will explore “the waiting rooms of Christmas.” These are not easy rooms to occupy. They threaten to overwhelm us with visions of doom, as does our world today.
The first week of Advent begins with a vision of the apocalypse. This is a tough place to begin waiting. If I’m honest, I want to wait with sing-songy visions of “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings…” You get the picture.
But Advent hope is not like that. It turns and faces what most of us want to flee, such as Luke’s apocalyptic vision in this week’s text.
“Distress among nations…people fainting from fear and foreboding.” Yikes!
So, how do we wait when things are falling apart?
With holy defiance.
In a wonderful little book called, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, Victoria Safford recounts a true story set in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as first told by Ian Frazier in his book On the Rez. In the fall of 1988, the Pine Ridge girls’ basketball team played an away game at a neighboring school.
The gym was dense with anti-Indian hostility. The fans waved food stamps, yelling fake Indian war cries and epithets like “squaw” and “gut-eater.” Usually, the Pine Ridge girls made their entrances according to height, led by the tallest seniors. When they hesitated to face the hostile crowd, a 14-year-old freshman named SuAnne offered to go first. She surprised her teammates and silenced the crowd by performing the Lakota shawl dance –“graceful and modest and show-offy all at the same time,” and then singing in Lakota. SuAnne managed to reverse the crowd’s hostility–until they even cheered and applauded. “Of course, Pine Ridge went on to win the game.”
Christmas hope carries within it the seeds of holy defiance. Safford says, “Once you have glimpsed the world as it might be, as it ought to be, as it’s going to be, it is impossible to live anymore compliant and complacent in the world as it is.”
At Street Psalms we are surrounded by some of the world’s most hopeful people who are doing their version of SuAnne’s Lakota shawl dance even when their team doesn’t win. They occupy the lonely place of truth-telling and refuse to accept things as they are!
As we occupy the first waiting room of Christmas that threatens to overwhelm us, listen to the words of Victoria Safford, in her poem, The Gates of Hope.
Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope—
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.
Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
Which creak on shrill and angry hinges
(People cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through)
Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of
“Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
But a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About your own soul first of all and its condition.
The place of resistance and defiance,
The piece of ground from which you see the world
Both as it is and as it could be
As it will be;
The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
But the joy of the struggle.
And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing
Asking people what they see.