By John Harvey Taylor
As the season of Advent begins, greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to the people of God in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.
Advent is our season of maximum attentiveness. These busy weeks lead inevitably and gloriously to Christmas. The feast of the Nativity occurs on a date that faithful people chose during Roman Empire times. It coincided with other traditions’ celebrations as well as the winter solstice on the Roman calendar. But we’re also reminded during Advent that Jesus Christ will return in glorious majesty at a time of God’s choosing.
Advent twins Christmas’s predictability with the serendipity of God’s infinite imagination.
The gospel teaches that Christ intends to interrupt all our rituals and routines, as we work in the world or at home (Matt. 24:36-44). And when Jesus does come again, the prophet suggests, he will expect to see us exhibiting God’s values and walking in God’s pathways, being people of peace, righteousness, and light (Isaiah 2:1-5).
Our Advent disciplines are quiet, keen watchfulness. Lowering our guard and removing our blinders. Knowing ourselves, however we’ve been fashioned, and how we’re invited by Christ to make a difference, all the time. Celebrating our successes, learning from our mistakes, and doing a little better each day.
Above all, being awake.
At the recent border summit in Tucson, one of the speakers, Sarah Eary of Lutheran Social Services, said that she believes that when it comes to the issue of immigration, America has fallen asleep.
She didn’t just mean our rancorous, paralyzing debates about immigration and asylum policy. The churches she visits in the Phoenix area have members with a wide range of political beliefs. She tells people that she doesn’t care what they think about politics. She only cares if they use their political disagreements as an excuse for inaction. People’s lives are at stake at the border, she tells them. Go find someone to help in the name of Christ. Someone to feed and shelter. Something to advocate for or protest about.
Just wake up, Sarah says. Experience Christ breaking in and then act, so that Christ will be manifest.
The church year beginning this week will also be a momentous political year in the United States. Let’s be alert. Be awake. Be woke. Whatever we call it, it’s better than being asleep. May the spirit of Christ be with us all during our long season of personal, local, and national discernment.
Each of us will have our own Advent resolutions. Here are mine. This year, I’m praying to be:
- Awake to my family, friends, and coworkers, who, when I strap on the armor of light, should be the first to bask in its glow.
- Awake to my natural curiosity about the narratives of everyone I meet, each a precious and unique chapter in the unfolding story of our God in Christ.
- Awake to a better attentiveness to those nearby who are food- and housing-insecure.
- Awake to chances to leverage the resources of our diocese and its 200 institutions for the glory of God and the care of God’s people, sustaining the Church by God’s grace.
- Awake to my own temperament and motives.
- Awake to accountability for the ways my privilege and power have advantaged me and disadvantaged my neighbor.
- Awake to all the walls we build, each a stumbling block to Christ’s justice – barriers of ethnicity, language, culture, orientation, identification, age, socioeconomic status, physical and mental capacity, and geography.
- Awake to seeing, advocating for, serving, and sacrificing for all who are marginalized, scapegoated, oppressed, and neglected, especially those coming to the U.S. border seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
- Awake to all who are alone and isolated.
- Awake to the innocent in peril, wherever and whoever they are, especially when the danger comes from systems in which I acquiesce or from which I benefit.
- Awake to learning to be a better-educated Christian and to new opportunities to model my faith publicly.
- Awake to God’s invitation to prayer throughout the day, since Christ’s spirit is always working to bring all things together for God’s purposes, and to daily study of Holy Scripture using the tools of enlightened Bible scholarship.
- Awake to chances for deeper ties with ecumenical and interfaith partners, remembering that conversations with those who understand and follow Christ differently than I will be the most difficult.
- Awake to the potential for ecumenical and interfaith work that advances gospel virtues of peace, justice, righteousness, love, and service to and care for God’s whole creation.
- In this election year, awake to being an agent of the solutions I want – learning from those who disagree with me, supporting and working for the causes and candidates I favor, and modeling civic engagement which is integral to Christian witness, always behaving “honorably” and not “in quarreling or jealousy” (Romans 13:11-14).
- Awake to advocacy close to home with my city and county leaders, especially when it comes to provisions for the homeless and housing insecure.
- Awake to the civic commandment I hear as a citizen to oppose all in power who make it harder for people to vote.
- Awake to my faith in the Resurrection and the gospel’s promise that darkness will never overcome the light of Christ.
- Awake to my primary vocation as a self-sacrificial servant of my God in Christ.
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Yours in Christ this Advent,
The Rt. Rev. John Harvey Taylor
Bishop of Los Angeles