This piece by Chris Lenshyn was originally posted on December 18, 2014. Chris serves as the associate pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford British Columbia.
The beauty of the church calendar is that we have something tangible that orients us toward a divine, participatory reality beyond and in contrast with the social fabric in which we find ourselves. Of course, that fabric is different in different neighbourhoods, cities and countries. With the Advent season in the church calendar we are oriented to the hopeful, active anticipation of the coming messiah.
It is not enough however to merely show up in church sanctuaries, or living rooms decorated in nativity scenes or Christmas-y banners and claim to be participants in that to which the church calendar orients us. The biblical narrative is not a decorative spectacle; it is a participatory grassroots movement of divine proportions. This participation is key, even in light of the “Messiah is coming, but not here yet” theme saturated within the season of Advent. This is a theme which we can certainly see in real life. For we are a people caught in between the return of God incarnate and the shalom which that divine event represents, and our current realities which offer us glimpses of this alternative reality. For this reason, the story of John the Baptist in the Gospel of John is tremendously important as we, hopefully, seek to fully accept the grand invitation to participate in an actionable hope as we await the return of the King.
John 1:6-8: There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. (NRSV)
It’s a joy to have something so obviously relatable for us in this season of Advent. This passage offers us a way to participate in the “now but not yet” reality. This is where we can participate in the narrative, as if alongside THE John the Baptist by being witnesses to the light.
But here is thing; there is much evidence to suggest deeply and damningly that we do not have a grasp on the “light.” Maybe we think we get it, but when we see the manner in which injustice is perpetrated in our world, no matter the social context, it seems painfully clear that as we claim to know the light, we are horrible witnesses to such a wonderful thing. When we participate in systemic racial, gender, sexual orientated injustice, and stand silent we are not witnesses but people insulated so much so that we do not think we need to repent. Excusing ourselves by way of convenient ignorance excuses us from the redemption which is inherent within the all-to-important practice of repentance.
We will never have complete knowledge of what that light is, but we have Jesus. To be a people who participate in Advent is to be a people who acknowledge the reality that the way in which we pursue faithfulness, and witnesses to the coming light, which is Jesus, may actually be a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” type of activity. White dominance, gender marginalization, and bullying to death folks from the LGBTQ community are all acts which have been perpetrated by so called “witnesses to the light.”
We get it wrong. But thankfully God isn’t just a secular humanist. Jesus is both fully human and divine offering us a collision between heaven and earth. We have a chance to do better, to pursue faithfulness better and to be a people who understand that to be in the light is to acknowledge our shortcomings as a people and put our hope fully into the divine arms of God incarnate, who perfectly and beautifully seeks shalom for this world.
Oh, what a beautiful light that is.