As I watch the ongoing mutation and collapse of my nation and society, Advent seems grittier and more necessary than in years past. You can feel our empire shudder and fret. The Rulers and the Rich and the Reverends, they twist into something astonishing and fearsome. They feed the people with lies. Words and actions are like wax noses, fashioned as it pleases those who have the increasing power to shape them. Greedy age, thy name is Impunity.
The Christian season of Advent was birthed in a time of sorrow, pain, and oppression. Rome’s centuries-old republic had finally collapsed and a new imperium had arisen under the banner of Caesar Augustus not thirty years earlier. The power of Rome seemed to be the world. Palestine was occupied, of course. Some things never change. Or do they?
Winter is coming, but Advent is here. Advent is now. Advent is not a moment, but a season, a prolonged time within which we live and work to become ourselves for something always already, something yet undisclosed. And because the Church has so short a memory, it must be reminded every year. We repeat Advent because we need Advent. It is a time of preparation, of reflection for ourselves in our actions toward others. Advent occurs in the time of decline and decay. It is a time laid over and intertwined with Fall, light failing until the darkest moment of the year.
So, the Church places the birth of God among us at the moment of collapse and despair. Let this be our starting point: when we look into the abyss and decide who we shall become. Advent is this beginning of our time of deliberation. The Gospel operates, the gospels operate during the time of encroaching eclipse. And as the light goes out, we are galvanized to act. We cannot rely on waning sunlight. We panic in our blindness, groping for foundation and warm hands. Our movements become furtive and we often cannot see each other. Our innate loneliness of existence is magnified in times of trouble.
Advents often occur in our blind spots. Determining the first moment is tricky, the intersection of person and place and event. In the most mundane, the most worldly occasions, it can be a birth or a bus seat or a single voice. Someone says no or someone says yes. Mary said yes. And saying yes, she said no to impunity.
Impunity strengthens the cries for justice. From sighs and groans words form. From Luke’s gospel, Mary’s words come back to us…
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Mary knows. She’s pondered these things in her heart. She has looked into the abyss and has her answer. She’s seen this before. She knows the stories. So do we.
Origin stories are important. They shape who is sanctioned and who is not. About fifteen years before the first unknown season of Advent, the Roman poet Virgil completed for Augustus one of the world’s greatest works of propaganda, The Aeneid, fashioning imperial power from Trojan exile, the deposed loser fated to be the greatest winner. The line from wolf-nursed Romulus and Remus to godlike Augustus defined and clarified and proclaimed for all to hear. Alternative facts become mythic verse and meter.
The gospels run against this imperial narrative, themselves tracing divine lines of authority, weaving different stories within themselves. There is no single story. They are written in gutter Greek, not composed in regal Latin. The Gospel always resists state power and legitimacy. But such resistance is not clothed in shining glory. It is clothed in dirt and paucity and defeat and endurance. It is found in lowly Bethlehem and shit town Nazareth. It is executed and resurrected outside of Jerusalem.
If this year were the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the fateful Battle of Actium, when Octavian defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra and changed Rome forever, would have been in about 1990. It’s only that long ago. We are old enough to remember, to have lived through that time. We remember when the clouds got darker and closer. We have seen this storm coming. This all started many years before now. It will get worse. We see it.
In the midst of Propaganda and Gospel, we must resist with Mary. Advent is now. Advent is now. Advent is now. Advent is a time of action. The work must be done. Resist with love where there is hate. Resist with kindness where there is abandonment. Resist with grace where there is cruelty. Resist with justice where there is impunity. Resist with knowledge where there is ignorance. Resist with truth where there are lies. Advent is our season. It is getting darker still. Resist.