Faith Calls Us to be Neighbors: When the Advent Promise Has No Resonance
Editor’s note: As a part of FMS’ 2017 Advent blog series, Fr. Joe Nangle, OFM, reflects on the meaning of Advent and the need to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Christian-Catholics identify closely with each of the Church’s liturgical seasons. We rejoice at Emanuel—God-With-Us—during Christmastime; we recognize our need for repentance throughout Lent and Holy Week; we have Alleluias in our hearts for the 50 days of Easter; and we experience our daily lives as guided by the Holy Spirit during Ordinary Time.
I believe, however, that Advent above all other seasons envelopes us in a special way. During Advent, we recognize that we live always in what these four weeks underscore: “the already and not yet.” He has already come; He has not yet come again. Or, in other words, we relate to the Spanish term for what we experience in Advent: “esperar,” to wait/to hope.
For so many of us, Advent is our favorite liturgical time. The Eucharistic prayer resonates in our hearts: “we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” This conviction of the in-between time as our moment in Salvation History brings, I believe, a certain serenity, a confidence that all will be well, and an abiding reliance on the ancient promise of a Savior who finally came and who will come again.
Advent is truly lovely.
But in these times, what surely intrudes on this quiet calm of pre-Christmas reflection is the realization that, for so many, there is no such season of real Hope. In fact, thousands close to us in the United States currently live anything but serene lives. They are the immigrants who came to this country seeking precisely what Advent means—whether or not they realized it. They came from areas of violence, hunger, and oppression to live in peace. Many of them came as children, their parents hoping that the United States would welcome and nurture the little ones so they might peacefully achieve their God-given potential.
Now, these children and their families face an official rejection of their dreams, the rejection of them as sisters and brothers to us all in this country, and even a growing suspicion that they are somehow threats to “our way of life.” The Advent promise has no resonance in their lives. On the contrary, they live in constant and hopeless fear that their lives will turn disastrous when they are deported to the violent and oppressive places from which they thought they had escaped.
In the light of this very real state of affairs being lived out so near to us, what meaning does the Advent moment have? In these circumstances how are we to celebrate the once and future promise which sustains our own existence? Is it not that we must become an “Advent presence” for these thousands of at-risk sisters and brothers? Are we not called to let them know that there are people like us in the United States who reverence each one of them as family? Is it not our duty as comfortable citizens of this nation to act on the ancient biblical command: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you once were aliens yourselves…” (Exodus 22:20). Are we not impelled to BE HOPE for the aliens of today?
Finally, it must be understood that Advent is a political as well as liturgical season. Its promise of “life in abundance” has social as well as personal consequences. Being nice to a Muslim or a Latino or someone whose customs differ from what is considered “American” is not sufficient. Laws and policies of our national life cannot be allowed to discriminate against or further oppress this community of vulnerable human beings. Our citizenship in a system “of the people, by the people and for the people” and our Advent hope impel us to show public solidarity with anyone among us who finds him/herself in danger of harmful rejection.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Reflection question: In what ways can you stand in solidarity with those around you?