Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent: Where Is Hope?

Advent has stunned me this year. The words of the prophets that we read during this season are more sobering than usual because they resonate so easily with what we are experiencing in our nation. News stories about the CIA’s use of torture and about the realities of racial injustice echo the most somber words of the prophets. Gun violence continues. A huge storm battered the San Francisco bay area, a big nor’easter hit the northeastern United States, and a “bombageddon” event pounded the northern part of the UK with high winds and high seas.

Here in Nebraska, we are just now returning to more normal December weather after breaking some records for high low temperatures, making it feel more like early spring than like December. There is little doubt that 2014 will go on record as the warmest year globally in recorded history.

But what has stunned me has not been the grim news reports nor the out-of-sync weather. What has stunned me is experiencing all of this against the backdrop of current climate news and analysis that at best might deepen our awareness of the need to repent of our blindness to injustice and cruelty along with plain old selfishness, and at worst might tempt us to a level of despair that keeps us from seeing the light that shines in the darkness and is never overcome.

I’ve not been blogging during Advent, and that has at least as much to do with the task of processing all of these things that have happened since Thanksgiving as much as it does with the busyness of the season or other duties. Where the events of this Advent have taken me so far is not easy for me to share, and I have wanted time to think things through and pray about them before beginning to write.

The Plan

Along with today’s post, the plan is to share this Advent reflection in three more posts:

The next post discusses two excellent essays and how they have clarified and nudged my own thinking: It’s the End of the World As We Know It by Randy Malamud, and Why #BlackLivesMatter Should Transform the Climate Debate from Naomi Klein writing in The Nation.

A post about some of the results from last week’s UN climate talks in Lima, along with today’s news that current models may have significantly underestimated the risk to Greenland’s ice sheet as global warming continues follows. The urgency of the latter underscores the disappointment in the former.

Finally, a look at the question: “How, then, should we live?” as followers of Jesus in this century brings us to speculation about where true hope lies for those of us who believe that the light shines in the darkness and will not be overcome.

An Unusual Disconnect from the Winter Holiday

An intentional observation of Advent is important to me. I love the quiet, the anticipation, the reflections on Christ’s coming that brings past, present, and future together in an eternal now, our custom of lighting special candles in the darkness of December, and Advent music. However, I also have a love of the winter holiday aspect of this time of year that goes back to childhood, when I was blessed to live in a snowy climate in an era when children had time and permission to go out and play in the snow. Snowball fights and snow forts, sledding, skating, and creating snowmen made the gray winter days in northeast Ohio fun. Despite despising driving in the snow, winter still  equals fun in my mind. The joys of a beautiful snowfall, coming indoors to warmth and maybe some cookies and hot chocolate, and many of the secular Christmas songs  that revolve around a winter solstice festival delight me. While I observe Advent and anticipate the holy wonder of the Feast of the Incarnation, I also enjoy the fun we bring into these dark weeks to warm us and make things seem brighter.

I was surprised, then, a couple of weeks ago as Bing Crosby sang White Christmas in the background and I stood at my kitchen window watching birds and animals on our bare lawn to feel a deep sadness instead of joy. I’ve celebrated Christmas without any hints of snow before, as our family lived in New Zealand in the early 1980’s, so this wasn’t just missing the experience of typical midwestern wintry weather in December. It was an awareness that there’s a good chance that whatever future Christmases I have in Nebraska are as likely to be green and above freezing as they are white with snow. I was glimpsing and pre-grieving the loss of the world as I have known and experienced it. Something I have loved is disappearing.

This Sunday, I started out driving to church on a foggy, rainy morning with temperatures warm enough that people were using the word “muggy” to describe the weather in Omaha. I was happy to know that the temperature was well above freezing and there was no worry about possibly icy streets. But I also had the UN climate talks on my mind. I had followed news of the talks until they ended at a late bedtime, and woke up remembering that it seemed as if another opportunity to take significant action on global warming had been squandered. Still, I was surprised at my reaction when I turned on the car radio and heard Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. Driving along on a muggy December day in Omaha with the music bringing back memories of more typical winter days made our greater loss seem more real. Sleigh Ride isn’t the sort of song that brings tears to our eyes, but it did just that to me Sunday morning.

This evening the north wind is howling, and parts of Nebraska had snow today. We may settle into some more typical winter weather for a bit, or we may end up with a warmer than normal winter. We are, after all, only a small part of the world, and global warming can bring changes in weather patterns that could bring us some exceptionally large snowfalls in coming weeks. (Buffalo, New York, got a good dose of that a few weeks ago.) But we know where we are headed, that some changes are here to stay, and that a certain amount of global warming not only has already occurred but also is going to continue.

Next post we consider two essays that speak to our situation this Advent: one is an honest and clear-eyed look at our situation and its implications, and one looks at why those of us who are white people living in the United States or Europe and are deeply concerned about global warming seem to be outnumbered by people around us who don’t give it much thought.

Boston Pops: Sleigh Ride

No comments:

Post a Comment