It’s appropriate that winter solstice falls near the end of Advent, even if it’s a reminder of how our celebration of Christ’s birth got wound up in the pagan festivities of ancient Rome.
It’s appropriate because Advent is a symbol of what we observe in the sky: today, we’re halfway out of the dark (to quote a certain Doctor Who Christmas special). The night has not yet lost its grip on the world, but its power is waning every day. Our redemption is not yet complete, but it has begun.
Not that it feels like the night is losing its grip. It will be a long time still before the sun feels warmer on our skin and the days longer. Some nights, it’s hard to believe we are headed out of the darkness at all.
I wrote pretty much the same thing this time last year. In 2014, there was no shortage of heartbreak to make us wonder if the night would ever recede. A brutal war in Gaza. The persecution of religious minorities in Iraq. Systemic racism claiming victims such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice.
This year, the examples have changed. But not that much, really.
A brutal war in Syria, along with attacks in Paris, Lebanon, and San Bernardino.
The persecution of refugees fleeing violence.
The unbridled hostility toward Muslims in our own country.
Systemic racism claiming still more victims while the rest of us shrug: Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, the nine martyrs of Charleston.
It’s hard to believe the night is receding when serious contenders for high office stoke the fires of xenophobia, when professing Christians talk glibly about packing heat so they can take down “those Muslims,” when the only answer the world can muster to the scourge of violence is… more violence. (You’d think after 10,000+ years of human civilization…)
It’s hard to believe the night is receding when our racism is laid bare—racism we foolishly thought we’d dealt with. It’s hard to believe our redemption is near when we continue to exclude those who are different—those who don’t “conform” or tick the right boxes. When we zealously rebuild the “dividing walls” our savior tore down. When we blatantly ignore the teachings of Christ in favor of self-preservation and self-protection.
But that’s the mystery of redemption, isn’t it?
If our redemption feels as though it’s a long time coming, the question we should ask is not, “What’s taking so long?” or “Will it ever come?”
The question we should ask is, “What am I doing to bring it about?”
Redemption is God’s business. Only he could initiate it. Only he can bring it to fulfillment. But after securing our redemption with his death and resurrection, Jesus did a strange thing.
He entrusted the still-incomplete work of redemption to a fledgling band of followers.
He said to those left behind, “You will receive power.”
Those followers began thinking of themselves as the “body of Christ”—the physical, tangible manifestation of their redeemer.
Redemption has not stalled. God has not stopped dwelling among us. His presence has simply taken on new form: us.
At Christmastime, we celebrate our redemption in the form of a helpless baby. But we should also learn to see redemption in the form of our own hands and feet. God has entrusted his project to us… and we’re not doing very well with it, are we?
That’s the thing about redemption: ours is tied up in the world’s.
If it feels like God’s redemptive plan for the world has stalled, perhaps we should ask whether it has stalled in us.
Are we still committed to being the hands and feet of Christ—the physical, tangible manifestation of our redeemer—which, by the way, means hands that are outstretched and open, not clenched in a fist?
Are we still committed to putting the good of the other over the preservation of ourselves?
If not, then what we are seeking is not redemption.
There is a way out of the dark. The night will recede. But only when we choose to become the agents of redemption that God has called us to be.