Today marks the second Sunday in Advent. Yesterday was a day of rain and snow, with temperatures in the mid-thirties. This morning is cold with broken cloud. As I type the snow line is working its way down the mountains.Last night darkness fell early, even by our northerly standards, giving us a taste of how short the days must have seemed to the early European Christians. Surely they readily drew parallels between their traditional concerns with the waning sun, and the new religion’s focus on the brightly shining son of god. Were not they somehow the same, at least in metaphor and experience?
Centuries later, my parents, seeking to live in the dominant culture, embraced their church, and a liturgical calendar focused on Easter. I have the sense that Christmas in general, and Advent in particular, was a theologically thorny time for their church community, a congregation composed almost entirely of marginalized persons. Their form of Appalachian evangelicalism privileged an angry male god and struggled with Mary. This may have reflected deep-seated fears of the Catholic Church dating to before the Reformation, concerns mirrored in the Communist Menace of the 1950’s and 60’s. We are, perhaps more than we know, conditioned by our times, and they had lived through the Depression, World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the rise of a Nuclear Soviet Union. The outward threat of totalitarian ideology loomed always on the horizon.
The back story was four hundred years of poverty and hard scrabble life for poor emigrants and Eastern Natives alike. After all, in the Americas the first Christian missionaries served the purposes of the conquers. Still, Christianity’s central hope for a renewed, just, healed world resonated profoundly with those who struggled to survive the onslaught. Perhaps the Advent story first caught on with slaves imported from Africa. Later, Native people began to integrate the new millennial vision into their own belief systems. While men were apparently resistant to the Christian teachings, women proved more open to them. Slowly, many in Indian country converted, often integrating the new religion with age-old traditional beliefs. After all, the Advent message is brought first in vision!
This Advent I am reminded of those distant, difficult times. I also know the joy that greets the birth of a much wanted child, and can readily imagine the sweetness of liberation from oppression and suffering. I am also reminded that no one is truly free till all are. This Advent, may we remember we each walk in the footsteps of the Holy Ones, each child is the Christ, and prophesy remains alive in the world.