Second Sunday of Advent
Advent is relentless about drawing us back to joy.
A few days ago, I was talking with my colleagues about the balance between being angry about injustice and holding on to hope. I mentioned that it sounds like the Kingdom of God, in its “already and not yet” state. We see injustice all around, from racial disparities in health care, to the lack of protections for workers (like heat safety and paid sick days). It reminds me of the Israelites being led away into exile in the first reading. However, that’s not the end of the story. The exiled powerless people return in glory, "with God’s mercy and justice for company." Similarly, we can collaborate with God in building a better, more just world.
We are called to see the grace of God around us and celebrate it. We are also called to recognize the world’s shortcomings, and that we have a role in bringing about God’s kingdom. Working in the field of justice means it's easy to get pulled down by hopelessness and see our actions as futile. Sure, I can recycle, but that won't stop the power plants from burning thousands of tons of coal. Sure, I can vote, but the people who are elected may well have policies that hurt people I care about. Sure, I can write a letter, but that won't really influence the legislation. Or, if you’re John the Baptist, “sure, I can preach repentance in the desert, but that doesn’t mean anyone will listen.”
It’s true that these systems are beyond individual agency, but collectively we really can make change when we decide that it’s possible. When we work together with people of faith and good will to prioritize justice, the kingdom of God is possible. In this season of Advent, we choose to believe that God joins in on our work and makes it meaningful. That together, we can work toward justice on a grand scale.
In the midst of the macro-level injustices happening around the world, it’s good to remember that God is with us. God has done great things for us, as the psalm points out. Even in the desert, we are filled with joy.
Peace and joy.
Sheila Herlihy is a Secular Franciscan who serves as Faith Organizer at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.