For the Second Week of Advent, two very different but related texts can help us be better prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to receive Christ in our hearts at Christmas.
The first text is this week’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 3:1-12 about John the Baptist appearing in the wilderness and proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
The second text is a new report from eighteen of the world’s top climate scientists entitled Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. This report is well worth reading in its entirety, but there is also a summary available. The summary explains that the paper “was initiated to provide the scientific basis for legal actions against national and state governments for not doing their job of protecting the rights of young people and future generations.” In doing so, it also helps lay the groundwork for a moral argument against our complacency as some of the wealthier people on the planet in the early part of the 21st century.
The paper argues that the 2° C warming that world climate forums have talked about as a limit that would prevent catastrophic climate change is too high a limit. (It should also be noted that several scientists think we are already on track to surpass that limit because of amplifying feedbacks.) This paper argues that 2° C warming creates instability that makes it impossible to stay at the two degree limit; two degrees of warming creates “slow feedbacks” that eventually lead to 3-4° C of warming. A simple example of feedback is the melting of the Arctic sea ice. Ice and snow reflect fairly large amounts of sunlight. When the ice melts, there is more open water and less ice, which means more sunlight is absorbed, which leads to more warming. This of course leads to further melting, which leads to further warming, and so forth. They argue that reducing global carbon emissions to 350 ppm by the end of the century can keep us within a warming limit that prevents catastrophe. And they note that “there is still opportunity for humanity to exercise free will”.
I love the beauty of our worship at Christmas, and I love the beauty and wonder of the Advent season that leads up to our great celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation. But my heart hurts when I realize how far from the mark of following Christ we can be when we focus more on the form and aesthetics of our worship than we do on our call to follow Christ. In this Sunday’s Gospel, John the Baptist says that it doesn’t matter if people are good religious folks – children of Abraham – if their lives don’t show it. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance” says John.
I hope that as we gather in churches on Christmas Eve that somewhere in a homily or in the prayers we name the reality and urgency of climate change. I hope that when we think about and speak about the Incarnation that we appreciate the depth of that mystery by looking at the reality of our world where God has chosen to come and dwell with us. I hope that as we prepare for the birth of the Holy Child and then celebrate the birth, and as we prepare to enjoy and delight the children we know and love, that we care enough about both the Christ-child and our own children to bear fruit worthy of repentance and work as hard as we can to stop the burning of fossil fuels and be willing to change the way we do things so that future generations might live.