“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…” is the phrase that begins the Gospel passage (Luke 3:1-6) for the Second Sunday in Advent. Luke refers to various political and religious leaders in order to set the events he is describing in history, to pin down the year when John began preaching. Yet we pay much more attention today to the words of John than we do to anything the people considered “historical figures” said or did. What endures today isn’t so much what the rulers thought or did; what is important to us is what John was proclaiming out in the wilderness.
A big piece of environmental news this week was the publication of NOAA’s seventh annual Arctic Report Card. As you can hear in this video summary of the report, there are big changes in the Arctic; the Arctic “is entering a new state”, and these changes are taking place faster than had been anticipated.
The leaders of the world’s large nations are neither decreasing greenhouse gas emissions enough to significantly mitigate climate change nor to preparing adequately to adapt to our rapidly warming world. The political leaders – presidents and prime ministers -- whose names might very well be those that will serve as historical markers in the future – are not the ones doing the important work. It’s clear that we need to find ways to effect big changes fairly quickly without waiting for the world’s leaders to take charge of the situation. The people whose names are in the news most days may not be the ones carrying a message for us this Advent; we need to look around to find out what’s worth our attention.
This Advent, important messages are coming from scientists, like those whose research contributed to the Arctic Report Card. Other living things bring us messages if we will listen and look. Many of the biggest and oldest trees in the world are dying [see Mighty Old Trees Are Perishing Fast,Study Warns; the reasons for their dying and the way their loss will impact other living things deserve our attention. This Advent, important messages are coming from climate activists, some fairly well-known and others less noticed. Bill McKibben has just finished the Do the Math tour advocating for institutional divestment from the fossil fuel industry to effect the sorts of changes we need without waiting for the world’s official leaders. People dealing with the effects of Superstorm Sandy in the U.S. and the Caribbean have important things to tell us that can help us get a sense of how climate change impacts people now, and a taste of what we can expect on a greater scale in the future. And people around the world who are feeling the effects of droughts, floods, fires, sea level rise, or melting permafrost have much to tell us about the human implications of climate change.
Listening to these messages – today’s wilderness voices -- with our hearts as well as our ears can bring us to repentance and renewal just as John and the ancient prophets did for the people of their times.