Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent IV: Deeper Traditions

 This reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is a revision of a post from December 18, 2010 that was written after the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Cancun that year. It also referenced the 2010 Climate Vulnerability Monitor, which remains a good resource to help in understanding the effects of climate change on various parts of the world.

Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25) tells the extraordinary story not only of Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus, but of Joseph’s reaction to the news. Joseph’s righteous response to Mary’s pregnancy was as plan to dismiss her quietly and shield her from public disgrace; such a reaction was enough out of the ordinary to warrant comment from Matthew. Then Matthew reveals the most unexpected piece of Joseph’s story: in a dream, an angel spoke to him, and when he woke up, Joseph did as the angel commanded him.

The nativity story is Good News; it’s a story of something new and different, a story of new life coming into the world on a very deep level.

Despite our celebration of the newness of the birth of Jesus, we tend to cling to traditions, often more so at Christmas than at other times of year. Every year, self-help writers encourage people to let go of traditions that have become burdensome in some ways – a big holiday dinner or party, for example, that has become more work and expense than the hosts can bear -- and try something new that is more life-giving.

Thinking about our environmental footprint at Christmas involves thinking about our traditions on a deeper level. Choices about which gifts to buy, how (or whether) to wrap them, travel plans, food, decorations, all involve examining customs or traditions and considering changing them because we want something that matters more to us: a sustainable future, life.

The environmental challenges we face year-round call for us to examine our daily customs and traditions, our entire way of life, and find other ways to live that make new life possible. They call for us to let go of things that have become burdensome to all living things and try something new that is more life-giving. They call us to move from traditions on the level of familiar customs to traditions on the level of our most essential values.

This blog’s post for Advent III talked about visions of hope and about some signs of change that support us 
in our hope, from the shutdown of some big coal-fired power plants to the little wind- and solar-powered “energy barn” built in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline here in Nebraska. While these things alone don’t put much of a dent in global warming, they are a start, and they do give us hope that bigger things can done that could significantly mitigate global warming.

Doing something is preferable to doing nothing, and signs of hope are something to celebrate, but some welcomed steps in the right direction aren’t the same thing as justice, especially not justice as described by the prophets. For the people on islands that are threatened by sea level rise, for people trying to raise enough food to survive in places where the traditional planting and harvest dates no longer are reliable, or for people who have lost homes or loved ones to severe weather events, changes on a much deeper scale is needed. What counts as a successful nod to the climate crisis in the political world, or what we might see as a success because it gives some small glimmer of hope in the darkness, isn't necessarily success according to the standards of the prophets.

Real justice calls us to change our way of life so deeply that the earth, worn down like the poor by our greed and selfishness, can be renewed and restored. These sorts of deep changes require an essential spiritual component that our deepest traditions can provide if we will tap into them. These sorts of deep changes are embedded in the story of the birth of Jesus, the story we prepare to celebrate this week. If we stop and listen to Matthew’s account of the birth, letting the story reach our hearts as well as our ears, we may find ourselves prepared to embrace those deep changes with gladness. We may find Good News, a story of new life coming into the world on a very deep level.

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