First Sunday in Advent and World AIDS Day
Romans 13: 11-12: Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light ....
I have a love/hate relationship with the Book of Romans. As a lifelong MCC pastor, lesbian activist, and evangelist in my own right, I identify with Paul's weaknesses and strengths more than my feminist self would sometimes like to admit. And as we know too well, the Book of Romans has been misused as a club to beat so many in our communities, literally and figuratively.
Rev. Jim Mulcahy, our church development worker in Eastern Europe, says, "I am so grateful I was able to go (to Ukraine and Russia for MCC) . . . I shed so many tears with people, Nancy, I heard so many confessions, my clothes were wet from people crying on me . . . I will never laugh or sneer at the Apostle Paul again . . ." Ironically, we in MCC are experiencing the "gospel of the heart set free" that Paul was preaching, even as others continue to misuse his words against us!
For me, these particular verses from Romans 13 are pure poetry and remind me that our faith was born in the crucible of the Ancient Near East, not the West, in a time full of apocalyptic images, political oppression, and injustice.
About 15 years ago, after more than a decade of pastoring in an unrelenting, and frankly, apocalyptic, time of AIDS deaths, I took refuge in poetry, in writing it as well. It helped heal me and gave me strength for the next battle. All of us -- even pastors and Elders -- need places of refuge, shelters in the storm.
Sometimes, it is art, music, and poetry that can lift us beyond the present moment, where we wait for Hope to find us, where we trust God to lift us beyond survival -- to that "peaceable Kin-dom" we long for.
This first Sunday of Advent, the readings may be poetic, but they are often apocalyptic, dark, and disturbing, shaking us awake, and not very gently! They ask us to get a grip, get ready, be alert, because God is on his/her way! It is time, NOW, to pay attention! Just as the culture is seasonally seducing us on every side to be distracted, cheerful, addicted to excesses, frivolous and greedy -- we must do something else:
- We are asked, on this World AIDS Day, to get tested, to open our churches as testing places, to be part of the global solution to "get to zero HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths," to be in solidarity with those affected and infected with HIV/AIDS, to not fall asleep, lulled by thoughts that the pandemic is over, just because we have stopped paying attention. Wake up! It is not over. We need to sing and shout, pray and protest, and be vigilant.
- We are tasked to never forget those who died, who have only us to remember them.
- We must pray for and expect the end of AIDS, the last infection, the last death -- we must trust and believe with all our hearts that these events are nearer than they once were, thank God!
- Finally, we are asked to subvert our culture's obsession with success, riches, status and celebrity, and to prepare to remember the birth of a vulnerable, humble Jesus, who identified with the poor and outcast. This Jesus, Who was way more under-resourced that any of us or our churches, but who said yes anyway to the One who called him "beloved!" We are called to be prophetic voices, crying in our 21st century spiritual and moral wilderness.
It is Advent, and World AIDS Day, all at once -- ready or not, MCC. We are asked to be awake, available, vulnerable and willing. To write poems, songs, plays -- to paint a future of love and justice for all Creation. To live our calling, every day, as our gift from a good God who is, after all, "Emmanuel, God with us," in apocalyptic or just plain challenging times. Amen.
Rev Elder Dr Nancy Wilson,
Moderator Metropolitan Community Churches