Advent is by far my favorite liturgical season. This time of quiet reflection and expectant waiting, with the multiple meanings that it carries is always a rich one for me personally. The themes of a fertile darkness where things grow and change, the eschatological hope for justice through God’s realm on earth, and all of it wrapped in the act of God’s love in becoming vulnerable and human encapsulate all the reasons that I am a Christian, a pastor, and the president of a religious organization working for justice.
But here in the United States, this Advent season is not giving much reason to hope for justice or God’s realm on earth. And the Revised Common Lectionary for Advent 3 this year is a study in irony. As I prepare to preach this coming Sunday, the texts from Isaiah and Mary’s song in Luke 1 (the Magnificat) speak directly to current events.
These texts proclaim, “God has sent me to bring good news to those who are poor; to heal broken hearts; to proclaim release to those held captive and liberation to those in prison; to announce a year of favor from God…” (Isaiah 61:1-2) and “You, O God, have shown strength with your arm, and scattered the proud in their conceit, you have deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. You have filled the hungry with good things while you have sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51-53).
As we in the United States await the final version of a tax bill from the House and Senate and a decision on whether the Dream Act will be included in year-end budget negotiations, it seems that the mighty are being exalted ever higher while the lowly are being pushed further down.
What we know about both versions of the tax bill is that they propose a structure that will increase income inequality and burden the poorest people in the United States. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the Senate tax plan would hit those making less than $30,000 per year the hardest, while those who make $100,00 to $500,000 per year will benefit the most. This is hardly “good news to those who are poor” or “filling the hungry with good things.”
Recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are being threatened as well. As budget negotiations continue, it is unclear whether a solution will be found that allows them to stay in the country that they know as home, or if they will have to leave by March of 2018. This is hardly “announcing a year of favor” or “raising the lowly to high places.”
While I believe that my faith teaches me to act for justice, these are not only Christian values. It is immoral to take from those who have the least and give to those who are already wealthy. It is immoral to allow capitalism to run unchecked and to push the fairy tale of “trickle down economics” on an entire country. It is immoral to send young people away from the only home they have ever known.
Isaiah saw the injustice of the suffering of his people and proclaimed that it was over. He promised that God would bring everlasting joy. Mary, too, saw injustice all around her. And when she chose to undergo the remarkable task of bearing God into the world, she knew that this act had the potential to upend systems of oppression and violence.
This Advent, more than any other I can remember, I am longing for God’s justice and peace in the world. I wish that our elected officials could hear the prophet’s message from God, “For I, God, love justice; I hate robbery and sin” (Isaiah 61:8).
Rev. Marie Alford-Harkey is the president and CEO of the Religious Institute. She is an ordained Metropolitan Community Church pastor, and is co-author of the Religious Institute publication Bisexuality: Making the Invisible in Faith Communities. She lives in Milford, Connecticut with her wife April, cats Jane and Memphis, and ministry dog Sandy.
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