As we draw near to the end of November, the air has grown crisp, the days shorter; the growing darkness causes us to cherish the sun in those moments when it is at its brightest. In the Christian year, this Sunday, the reign of Christ Sunday, is the last of the year. Next week is the first Sunday of Advent, and the beginning of a new year.
As the year draws to a close, we begin, even in the darkness of these days, to dream of the light that is birthing even in this moment, signaling the arrival of promise and hope, and of fresh new beginnings. Such is the promise of our faith.
To say that this has been a difficult year, is an understatement. As global citizens we have witnessed and lived a pandemic that has swept through creation, leaving in its path sickness and death. Our lives have been turned upside down. We have felt the loneliness and isolation of physical distancing, of not being able to join together in person, to worship and have coffee. We have felt the loss of not being able to come together to celebrate special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, as well as the difficulty of not being able to gather to celebrate the life of those who have died.
This time has also laid bare the inequality and the injustice that so many in our society experience, not just during a pandemic, but on a daily basis. We’ve seen the gross neglect of our seniors in for-profit long-term care homes. We’ve seen low-income neighborhoods subjected to higher rates of infection. We’ve seen Loblaws record tremendous profit for share-holders, at the same time as they denied front-line workers a modest raise.
As the year draws to a close, much has changed, and frankly, we’re tired and yearning for an end of the Pandemic, but we’re not there yet, and we must stay the course and continue to do all that we can to protect each other and ourselves from the effects of the virus. In the midst of the fatigue and grief that we are living, we’re called to keep moving toward the light and the promise of a new year.
Our passage from Matthew’s gospel brings to an end his account of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples. We’ve listened in these past weeks as Jesus and his followers have discerned what is involved in being a disciple; what it means to live together in community. As the story in Matthew’s gospel continues, we will gather with the crowds along the way, as Jesus makes the journey into Jerusalem, into the heart of the Empire.
Jesus and his followers have shared so much together. They have lived their lives together. They have taught and healed so many as they have traveled together. They have come to a new understanding of what it means to be loved and to live out of that love. But just in case they’re still wondering what is involved in following Jesus, he reminds them once more with the following illustration:
“Then the king will say…, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom…, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’”
The people respond as we might expect them to, saying, when did we ever see you in such ways?
“And the King answered them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it for me.”
As Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem, one might have thought that he would have gathered a large army to go with him, after all, the wisdom of the world would have suggested that you meet force with force. But in case there was any doubt, Jesus makes it clear, that he wasn’t an ordinary King.
Jesus is turning his world upside down, or perhaps, he is really turning the world right side up, and by so doing, he’s challenging not only his followers’ expectations of leadership, he’s turning their attention toward those who have been left behind by oppression and injustice.
As this year draws to a close, we are being called to examine how we might re-orient and emerge into anew way of being. We are being called to listen to each other in a new and careful way and by so doing,hear the stories that truly matter and focus our attention on building a more just and equal society where no-one is forgotten or sacrificed, so that a few might benefit.
As the Pandemic continues, we know that we are being called to stay the course. We need to continue to follow the best Medical advice available and do what we can to stop the spread. We miss being together, but we are finding new ways of supporting each other. We’re coming together as a community in ways we wouldn’t have thought possible. We will emerge from this time and come together in bold new ways, yet to be discovered. The dawn of a new year is just around the corner, together we are being urged to travel from the darkness, into the light of a new way of being. As we look forward to a season of Advent unlike any we have yet experienced, we are reminded that we are followers of a different kind of king; a King who will gently walk beside us as we journey from darkness into the light of God’s fresh new dream.
By Rev. David Illman White
Centretown United Church
Thank you for this inspiring reflection, David.