If ever we needed to hear “Emmanuel” (God with us), it is during this Advent season as we wind up the year 2016. With violence prevailing in war-torn countries, and political upheaval changing the face of our neighbour to the south, not to mention changes in our own denominational structure, we seem to be groping for a divine peace like never before.
The angel’s song of peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased to the Bethlehem hillside shepherds seems like a faint whisper amid the din of our present world. How desperately we need the assurance of God’s reign this season as we put aside our fears and despair to enter into the joy of our Lord, of God entering the human scene in the form of a newborn baby.
We are beset with anxiety by the speed of cultural changes coming upon us this past year. Watching the U.S. election, we have been introduced to “post-truth,” as demonstrated by “fake news” stories,
false information believed to be fact. To those born in the mid-1950s, this seems alarmingly Orwellian. It’s hard to wrap our heads around it.
Social media discourse through Twitter and Facebook has so taken over conversation in the public square that traditional forms of communication are no longer trusted sources of information, but are seen to be biased and market-driven, interested only in commercial success or in preserving establishment values. We live in silos and tend to communicate only with those who share our views and core beliefs.
Don’t think for a moment that this isn’t affecting our life as a faith community with Anabaptist roots. We struggle to model Jesus and follow his teaching as recorded in Luke 4:18: For the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those that are bruised (King James 2000 Bible).
Instead, we are spending our spiritual energies parsing the scriptures over gay marriage, having contentious discussions over who is the most faithful, who is in and who is out, and whether or not we will leave or stay with the main body of believers. We are less enthused about relating to our indigenous neighbours whose families have been broken over centuries of abuse and neglect. We seem reluctant to learn from native spirituality, which could enrich our own.
We are not sure if we should side with the Christian Palestinians in their plight as “captives” in an occupied land of the Middle East, or to regard Christian Zionism as God giving the land to the Jews, going back to a promise made to Abraham.
While we give lip service to caring for creation, many of us are still far too dependent on fossil-fuel sources of energy to heat and cool our homes and fuel our cars, and to travel the globe in fuel-guzzling airplanes. It is hard to change our lifestyles in ways that pay closer attention to waste management and to cheap consumer goods produced by child labour and by $2-a-day labourers in developing countries.
In our own denominational restructuring, are we drawing on the wisdom and leadership skills of women, persons of non-white ethnicity from our new Canadian congregations, and young leaders, all of whom could bring valuable perspectives to the new formation? So far, the task is falling to area church moderators and an Interim Council that includes only one woman. Most of the members are over 50; this is not to downplay the wisdom of age and experience, but does it have to be dominated by older white men?
Yes, we celebrate again the coming of Emmanuel, the stabilizing divine force that gives our lives meaning and purpose in a changing world, a place just as broken and violent as the Roman-occupied Palestine of more than two thousand years ago. Not much has changed, has it?
But the message of deliverance to the captives is still relevant in the 21st century. Can we, during this Advent, re-examine our spiritual priorities and bring peace among those with whom he is pleased?