This is the third reflection in a devotional series I’ve made for Advent 2020 called No Going Back. You can read more about this devotional and download a PDF copy here.
I am always amazed at how life finds a way to flourish even in the most difficult of circumstances. I contemplate this when I’m walking through my neighborhood and I see a dandelion sprouting out of the sidewalk. Even with a layer of concrete to contend with, a seed took root and grew up toward the sun. It’s a potent image of resistance – that life will adapt and make a way forward.
There is much to be sad and frustrated about with this year but what has given me immense hope is seeing the many ways folks have been supporting their neighbors during the pandemic. I think of the many friends who, with the news of mask shortages in hospitals, made masks out of fabric for healthcare workers. Across the United States, “community fridges” have popped up in cities and towns to support those experiencing food insecurity. These are fridges that are stocked with donations, and folks can simply walk up and take what they need. There’s also a greater awareness of mutual aid, and more mutual aid funds have been started and continue to support people who need to pay bills, buy food, or take care of other expenses. I think too about how churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship invested time and money into learning how to livestream their services so congregants could worship and pray from home. Strangers saw other strangers in need and instead of waiting on the state or nonprofits to help, stepped in and did what they could.
The events of this year have also allowed us to question our collective ways of doing things. For example, as companies allowed more employees to work from home for safety, employees began to question why such accommodations weren’t made before for folks with disabilities. My Facebook feed has been filled with posts from friends wondering why it is that we are all expected to be productive during a pandemic, instead of taking the time and space necessary to ensure the spread of COVID-19 is stopped – and to give ourselves space to properly mourn our dead and the world we once knew. There have also been renewed energy and conversations, after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor this year, around dismantling white supremacy and the need for defunding the police. What I see in these expressions of solidarity and this larger questioning of systems is a yearning for a world other than the one we have been given. What if we actually had a society where everyone had their needs provided for? What if we spent time and money investing in underserved communities rather than simply responding to every issue with more surveillance and policing? What if we didn’t have to spend so much time working and more time with our loved ones? What if we could actually rest deeply without worrying about our lives falling apart? What if? What if?
I love the book of Isaiah for many reasons, but this passage especially is a favorite of mine. It feels especially resonant now. We are in the third, “pink” week of Advent – traditionally when we joyfully look forward to the birth of Christ in the next couple of days. With this year being as long and painful as it has been, it may have been hard for you to find joy. I know it has been for me. This passage is a reminder that our God is one who wipes away our tears. The prophet says God will turn our mourning into happiness, our grief into praise. We are told that after the devastation, the people of Israel will rebuild and restore what has been lost. When I see people setting up community fridges, sharing mutual aid funds, or advocating for their mental health needs, I think of this passage. This work of restoration – what our Jewish siblings call tikkun olam, repairing the world – is holy and blessed by God. Our yearnings for a better, more loving world made manifest.
God tells us over and over in the Bible what God’s vision for the world is like: one that is based on justice, compassion, and love. We hear in Isaiah’s opening verses some of God’s priorities: liberation for the oppressed, healing for those with broken hearts, freedom for captives and prisoners. Much later on, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus reads these words when he visits his hometown’s synagogue and proclaim that, with his arrival, the verses have been fulfilled. Although the people present didn’t care much for his proclamation (they proceeded to run him out of town, actually), the Gospels show us that Jesus embodied these words in the way he advocated for the poor and forgotten and by his desire to bring all people into the Kin-dom of God.
People often dismiss “radical” policies like universal health care, loan forgiveness or accountability outside the criminal justice system as too idealistic. They are “pipe dreams.” Some may even say “un-Christian”! But God’s desires for our world are not simply spiritual – they are tangible: food for the poor, release of prisoners, forgiveness of debts. Are God’s calls for justice “pipe dreams”? Or have we simply deluded ourselves into thinking that our systems of oppression are not at all in contradiction with the Kin-dom of God? We have to dream bigger, because God’s dreams and longings for us are brighter than we can ever imagine. This week, consider: What is your vision of an ideal world? Is it one based on love and equality? What do you wish your community had access to? How could your life and the lives of your family, friends, and neighbors be different if we changed our societal priorities?
A question for you:
What kind of world do you dream about?
A prayer for this third week of Advent:
God of defiant joy,
you break the bonds of oppression
and lift your people up from their despair.
Inspire us with your dreams for your children,
that we may make them manifest
in this broken and suffering world.