As we turn toward Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are cultural rituals that we enact. White lights line roofs and store windows. Children send letters to Santa with their Christmas wishes named. Radio stations put holiday songs on repeat. Travel plans get made. Thick catalogs stack up in the daily mail, full of ideas of what we might want for Christmas.
Underlying all these simple acts, I think, is a deeper longing. We long for peace, beauty and light in darkness. We dream of magic and fantasy that can delight us. We want to “have ourselves a merry little Christmas,” and for “hearts [to] be glowing when loved ones are near.” We would like to gather with family — of blood or choosing — and know that we belong. And it would be nice to give and receive just a few gifts that remind us that we love and are loved. These longings lie under our holiday rituals.
The longing runs deeper still.
We long for a renewed civic life after an embittered, fear-based campaign season. We pray for peace and places of welcome in the face of the largest refugee crisis in history. We want a viable (dare we say joyful?) way forward as people of faith as we see that congregational life continues to grow slowly for some and decline for most in the North American church. We dream of individualism and consumption being replaced by beloved community and acts of sharing. We imagine a celebration of multi-cultural, multi-faith and diverse experiences of life. We long for things to be set right so that our communities — indeed, each of our souls — are not plagued with racism, homophobia, demonization and polarization. These are our deep longings.
It is said that the first morning of Advent 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, after an awful night of bombing, arose, prayed and placed a wreath on his prison wall. His biographer writes, “He could look around him on Advent morning and to see the ruins to which Christ must come again.” So, too, do we look around and long for Christ to come again to the ruins of our time and of our lives, bringing new creation, abundant life, an end to mourning and crying and pain.
The prophet Isaiah cries out to God, “Tear open the heavens and come down,” make the mountains quake and adversaries to know your name and the nations to tremble at your divine justice. There is urgency now, too. Tear open the heavens and come down, O Lord. Set things aright. Set our hearts right. Set our actions right. Set our laws and systems right. Make out of us the beloved community.
Which, of course, begs a question. Are we willing to be torn so that something new can come? Something born of God?
Jessica Tate is the director of NEXT Church. The NEXT Church 2017 National Gathering, “Wall & Wells: Well-Being in a Thirsty World,” will be in Kansas City, Missouri, March 13-15, 2017. Jessica lives in Washington, D.C.