Holiday Interrupted


I’ve been busy with the holidays since last week.

When the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson was announced, I was picking up extended family from the airport.

When a local action took place in my city the next day, I was gathered at my church for our annual Thanksgiving meal and service.

While some marched, demonstrated, and sought to witness for peace amidst mounting frustration and violence, I gathered with loved ones around turkey and trimmings.

And while others took to the streets and even blocked traffic in protest of the status quo, I drove two hours of clear highway to pick out the perfect Frasier fir from the North Carolina mountains.

It’s not that these traditional holiday tasks were unworthy of my time and energy. Some of them were necessary. Some were even holy. Nonetheless, each brings into sharp relief the privilege I enjoy in this place and time. As a national crisis escalates and a vital conversation about race and justice continues, I can effectively insulate myself—especially during the holidays. I can choose to be involved or I can choose to be busy with other things.

Advent gives me similar options. Once again, Christians have corporately entered a season of waiting, during which we wonder if this is the year we might see what we have not seen yet. Some of us can afford to be more patient than others.

Isaiah’s patience was wearing thin. In the lectionary reading for the First Sunday of Advent, Isaiah 64:1-9, we find Isaiah shouting into his own waiting, asking for some sort of identifiable, decisive action from God. The prophet is almost in lamentation as he cries out, “If only you would break open the heavens and come down…if only the mountains would quake…if only you would make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to tremble.” In other words, “God, come down and make a change. We’re tired of waiting. This is more than we can bear.”

Isaiah is sometimes known as the Prophet of Advent. He knew intimately well the reassurance of God’s presence, but he also knew the despondency of God’s absence in those times when injustice prevailed. If Isaiah is the Prophet of Advent, it’s because Advent is for people who have known both of those things, too.

That’s why what I hear from Isaiah sounds more like what I hear from protesters calling out for justice, than it sounds like some of the things I find in Christian hymnals and bulletins this season. I’d even suggest that there are far better images for Advent to be found in Ferguson, MO this past week than in my decked halls in Greensboro, NC. The Advent we hear about in Isaiah is more like protest and frustration than a comfortable family gathering. It’s more like people marching and yearning for something more, than people seated content, fulfilled, and patient.

Some of us have options this season, liturgically and otherwise. I confess that a part of me would rather stay busy with all the sentimentality of the season. I’m drawn to the holiday table where everyone is polite, and we don’t talk about race, inequity, violence, or anything that runs counter to the reassuring narratives. And I’m often content to stay in a finely adorned sanctuary, with candles lit and joy swelling in four-part harmony.

But Christ doesn’t come there. Not at first. Christ comes to the frustrated and angry. Christ comes to those yearning for something more—those willing to interrupt the flow and imagine what this world can yet be. Christ comes to the backside of an inn, in an occupied land, to a family on the run, who must have felt very frustrated and desperate as they comforted their baby in an animal trough.

Advent is not for those who are considering whether or how to enter a season of waiting. It’s for those who already wait.

The message of Christmas is that what we’ve waited for has come, and the world we hoped for can now be seen.

It’s time I got busy with that.

Alan P. Sherouse is senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC.

This was first published in The Huffington Post.

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