God’s Ways – Liv Larson Andrews reflects on peace, darkness, and time.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Readings for the First Sunday in Advent, Year A (2022, 2025)
The tools for peace are the tools that tend the land.
Though I grew up in a land of corn farms, summer swollen riverbeds, and silos of soybeans, I have moved to a land of mountains. Big mountains. Mountains that can fill whole view of the horizon or disappear in a cloud. Mountains of welcome and foreboding.
The people groups who inhabited the land around the mountains before white settler colonists arrived speak of the mountains as sacred neighbors. If they wish to climb a high peak or cross over a mountain pass, these indigenous humans first ask permission of the mountain.
Such relationality is at the heart of Isaiah 2, where the holy mountain is a gathering place and a site of education. No more shall human groups learn war. Rather, from the sacred mountain seat of teaching, God will instruct the peoples in the ways of peace. Nations will stream to the mountains not for tourism or recreation, but “that we may walk in (God’s) paths.”
A foundational social life is what Pope Francis urges in his recent encyclical, Laudato Si’. “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty.” There is something about Isaiah’s mountain and the stream of nations pouring toward it that evokes this same sense of “we have had enough.” Pope Francis continues, “When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home [Encyclical]. 2015, para. 229).
In Advent 2022, we know this truth all too well. Many nations are in fact at war. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting chaos and widespread famine are items that fill our news reels every day. Within the lands of the United States, political groups are waring over dominance. And as politicians fight, regular humans suffer: five people died by gun violence at a Colorado gay night club early in the morning of Reign of Christ Sunday.
God’s ways of peace are far from how we function. And yet God gives us the very tools we’ll need to become people of peace: gardening equipment! The same rod of steel or iron that serves to kill in war can also serve to till the soil, grow crops, and feed people. These are the tools of a foundational social life envisioned by Pope Francis. The prophet Isaiah tells of a day when humanity is so in line with God’s purposes that we opt to cut into garden soil, not each other. Long ago, St. Augustine said that our bodies are “the dirt we carry around.” Inspired by the Pope’s words, why don’t we make our bodies into fertile ground for peace?
This is the daring call of Advent, and we need it every year.
Darkness aids germination.
You can find good theology in the most surprising places. This statement was printed on the back of a packet of seeds. A friend shared this with me as she took delight in the positive framing of darkness. Of course a seed needs the darkness of the rich soil to germinate and grow. It would be silly to expose it to sunlight at that stage. If we are to grow into peacemakers and learn the ways of God, why does Paul speak so negatively about the dark?
These are questions we should hold and wrestle with every Advent. Yes, it is quite dark in the northern hemisphere at this time of year. Yes, cultures came to a halt in the depth of winter and lit their homes and churches with candles to cheer the deep cold. But no, this doesn’t mean that all that is dark is evil and all that is light is holy. Creation requires a dance between the sun and moon, a dance that shares the gifts they bring and all the in-between times too—dusk, twilight, early dawn. White supremacy all too easily maps onto the binary created by the legitimate fear that pre-industrial cultures (and many present-day young children) had about darkness.
May we preach in such a way that we help our congregations listen to Paul’s admonishments while also savoring the holy work that God does under cover of deep darkness. Last Advent, some guests to our community taught us this refrain:
Holy darkness. Blessed night.
Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight.
As we await you, O God of silence,
We embrace your holy night.
(Holy Darkness by Dan Schutte.)
Leave the table set all night.
For not even the steady rhythms of night and day can predict the arrival of God into our midst. And so, we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Be our guest in these strange, midnight hours.
The gospel for Advent 1 is rich with elements of creation: flooding, working in the fields, an unexpected hour hidden within the flow of the seasons. But these elements don’t seem to add up to a comforting, good news message. People disappear in the midst of their daily work. Communities are going about their normal rhythms when a crisis hits. Jesus compares his own arrival into time and space with a thief entering a house. This comprises a call to wake up and take action.
But because these are the words of Jesus, this call to action need not be only heard as judgment. There is tremendous grace in truth-telling, even if the truth is hard to hear.
I wonder how these readings are heard in communities that suffered dire losses in the very early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. I recall one Lutheran parish in NYC who lost 50 members in one month, all of Latin-x descent and essential medical workers. Did they feel that the plague came upon their community so fast that “one was taken and one was left?” Preachers would do well to tend to the latent grief and loss within this text and speak to it tenderly.
Time itself belongs to God, even time that collapses in the context of trauma. There is grace in that. When we can no longer function because the pain is too great, still God holds this painful hour. How might we wake to the grace of this truth while activating one another to meet the present moment? What rhythms of community care can you dream up with your people so that, when the unexpected hour arrives, whether painful or joyous we know it is a time held by God?
Come, Lord Jesus. Be our guest.
Originally written by Liv Larson Andrews in 2022.