Scripture reading for today:

Isaiah 41:14-20, Psalm 21, Romans 15:14-21

Linger in the Darkness

When we scroll through social media for the 18th time, or listen to the latest news events, it’s often draining. The world sounds like a mess with no end in sight and we–WE–are a part of it. The messy part. Both the cause and the solution. As Christians, we are often caught reflecting about the mess. Sometimes we point the finger at everyone “on the outside”. Sometimes we get introspective and look at the mess in ourselves.

Advent is our time to linger in darkness while we wait for the incoming hope to deal with all that is not well. We are reminded that there is a plan for the mess. Before the Light of the world intercedes into the history of humanity, we sit in the prologue wondering and waiting for a fix. 

This year’s Advent series is, “Engaging Advent Even When All is Not Right with the World.” If I may, I want to shift the gaze we often have with “the world”. It’s often a place we wag a finger and root our lament, but it may be the wrong place. In fact, the world seems to be doing fine amidst a declining (at least in the West) church presence.

It’s Getting Better

In his book, “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think”, the late Dr. Rosling provides 10 data-driven conclusions challenging common misconceptions in popular culture. He discounts the notion the world, as a whole, is getting worse. In fact, the opposite is true. To name a few: there are fewer deaths attributed to conflict; life expectancy is up due to healthcare advances; and economic expansion has left most of the globe in a “middle class”.

This reality doesn’t fit the “first-world” narrative Canadians employ against the rest of the “developing” globe. A place of privilege, or even the illusion of such, has a way of looking down on those below. It’s a posture the church is used to occupying. Centuries at the centre of cultural attention have built a particular way to perceive and treat “the world”. For one, those outside are lost and in desperate need of saving.

But what if the world doesn’t need saving at all? What if what’s not right in the world is actually the church? Or let’s tone it down one notch, what if the church is part of the problem with all that’s wrong with the world?

It’s Us!

What happens if we point the finger at ourselves? Looking inside the church yields some easy targets. 

  • Rampant sexual abuse;
  • Spiritual and leadership abuse;
  • Racial segregation;
  • Little outgoing mission;
  • Limited embodied care, if any, for the poor.

It would be easy to go on, but why bother?

Thankfully, God’s kingdom doesn’t need a church. But it sure helps. Although we don’t own justice, gospel, or love, we are called to be chief participants in this unfolding hope. That’s perhaps where we went wrong. Assuming the church was the key to unlock heaven, and we’re to stuff as many through the door.

What if we ditch the “holier than thou” approach of policing how others should act and think? In the Gospel of John, our simple yet profound commandment is to love. They will know we are Christians by our love for one another. That love is spent not merely for each other, but for the other (the neighbour) as well. What if we took care of our own house while we sought to minister to the other?

As you linger in the darkness reflect on what’s not right, not just on the outside, but at home too.

Can I Get a Witness?

You’ve heard that Bible verse before I’m sure. Be in the world and not of…. It’s an attempt to form Christians in an understanding that maintaining “pure” faith means guarding from profane outside influences. Stick to the good Word so one day you can ride off into heaven. But there are a few problems with this formation. Firstly, we don’t get to spend eternity in the clouds. The Christian hope is rooted in the restoration of all things here on Earth. We don’t escape the “broken world”, rather the world will be fixed. Secondly, it creates Christian subcultures that are insular and lack a competent mission identity of bearing witness to the Hope. Instead, it encourages communities to cut off from “the world” and rest behind the safe confines of the church walls.

Maybe we should stay there? After all, it seems the world is doing fine.

But what about saving souls? A good evangelical might ask. 

Well here in Canada, “the world” is not buying what we’re selling anyways….

Which is a shame really. Because there’s something deeply compelling that emerges from that quiet night on the shepherds’ field. An answer to the questions we all share, be we in or of the world.

Questions like: what is the purpose in life? Do my gifts matter in the grand scheme of things? Why should we care about injustice? What’s the point of it all? Why long to love and be loved? 

Answers to life’s questions are being sought, but the church is missing from the key. We struggle to translate the grand Hope for creation in a language that those “outsiders” can understand. 

I believe there IS a story, a grand dream, that rests in God’s plan to restore all things. That’s what we cling to. The ultimate satisfaction that at the end of it all, all of those wrongs will be turned right. A hope rooted in Christ who is the answer to the life questions everyone has.

This Advent let’s sit with the question of “what’s wrong with the church?”. Let’s reflect on our communal identity to be known for our love for one another and the other. Let’s announce the Good News that seeks to right the wrongs at home and beyond. He is the answer to make things better.

With Romans 15:14-21 (CEB).

My brothers and sisters, I myself am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and are able to teach each other. But I’ve written to you in a sort of daring way, partly to remind you of what you already know. I’m writing to you in this way because of the grace that was given to me by God. It helps me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. I’m working as a priest of God’s gospel so that the offering of the Gentiles can be acceptable and made holy by the Holy Spirit. So in Christ Jesus I brag about things that have to do with God. I don’t dare speak about anything except what Christ has done through me to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles. He did it by what I’ve said and what I’ve done, by the power of signs and wonders, and by the power of God’s Spirit. So I’ve completed the circuit of preaching Christ’s gospel from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum. In this way, I have a goal to preach the gospel where they haven’t heard of Christ yet, so that I won’t be building on someone else’s foundation. Instead, as it’s written, Those who hadn’t been told about him will see, and those who hadn’t heard will understand.

Thank you for reading the New Leaf Advent Reader, a collection of reflections from writers across Canada. If you are enjoying the reader, sign up to receive the readings in your inbox each day here: SIGN UP And please share this reflection with your friends and family who might also enjoy it.