We enter into Advent at the end of a peculiar year, in a disorienting time. 2017 seems determined to draw to a close with non-stop revelations of powerful people treating others poorly. Most of these are dubbed “sexual misconduct”, but these transgressions are about misuse of power, and the use of sex organs, sexual acts and talk about sex to terrorize people whom the powerful deem powerless or expendable.
We are listening to victims who have been terrified to speak. The perpetrators are losing esteem, reputation, and in some cases jobs and income, though many of these firings appear more to motivated more by their employers desire to protect their reputations than out of true concern for the victims.
It appears that the mighty are being cast down.
On the Feast of Christ the King the Gospel was Matthew 25: 31-46. The King gathers the sheep and the goats and makes it clear what his priorities are: to inherit the kingdom we are to care for each other. And then the King identifies with the group you would least expect: the least of our brothers and sisters.
Jesus’s model of kingship is to care for us, and demand we care for each other, and to be found in the people we most want to overlook. I want to be part of that kingdom, and I recoil at this revealed reality that many people don’t care about being good. They want to use power to abuse and brutalize.
I hope it won’t appear to be dancing on anyone’s grave to say I want those mighty to be cast down. I don’t believe it is solely my job, or yours. I believe, along with Mary, that it is God’s job. I can be God’s handmaiden by promoting a more just world. This is how I’ll be working toward that this Advent.
A frustrating flaw of my personality type (Enneagram 8, if you are wondering) is that I have a very strong attraction to being powerful. Before I learned how to manage this, there were certainly times when I didn’t pay attention to the people who were affected by my will to power, and I hurt them. My inclination is to get so wrapped up in myself that I don’t listen, but it is only by listening that I realize why I need to conquer the pride in my own heart.
We all need to listen to those who are powerless, voiceless, or marginalized. There is no virtue in only giving our attention to those who can give us something in return.
Opt for the poor
Through the Bible we see examples of God choosing the unlikely, siding with the widow and orphan, and rejecting the proud and the greedy. God opts for the poor.
How can we do this? Be generous without judging. Make a decision based on what will help the people with the least, not on what will help you. If you find yourself tempted to treat someone, talk about someone, or even think about someone in a way that doesn’t value their human dignity, check yourself.
That last one goes for perpetrators too. It’s a tough task to recognize the dignity, however obscured, of those who do such damage to other people and to the common good. It doesn’t mean letting them off the hook or prioritizing their needs. When I’m faced with the choice, I’ll help the victims first without guilt or hesitation. I believe that’s what it means to opt for the poor and vulnerable.
I’ve put a lot of effort into knowing what I’m for rather than simply what I am against. This comes from constant self-reflection and efforts to connect to my core beliefs. Praying with the Magnificat, for example, encourages me to internalize the radical care and mercy that God shows to us, which deepens my resolve to live mercy and care in my own life. I will be praying with the Magnificat at length this Advent.
Proclaim the greatness of the Lord
Proclaiming the Reign of God in which there is no bias or discrimination, no violence or hatred, in which leaders are good shepherds, gives the world a vision of something better. I am blessed to be part of communities where people want to be good. I believe this goodness is possible.
It may require the unpopular work of condemning bad behavior – even when it is perpetrated by the powerful or the cool. Use your voice. With God on our side and love in our hearts we can be part of casting down the mighty and raising up the lowly.
Please, please, don’t let weariness turn into despair. (I’m talking mostly to myself here). Whatever you have to offer is needed in this time.
Advent is a time of expectation, when we sit with the at-times frustrating reality of the not-yet. And when Christmas comes we will remember God coming into the world as a deeply vulnerable baby who grows in wisdom to transform the world through self-sacrificing love. This is our model. Don’t let him out of your sight.
This is often the time of year when I share links to some of my favorite Advent resources. I had more to say this year than most about our inner resources, but I’ll still share with you some of my favorites.
Bach’s Magnificat – my favorite version is on this album.
Xavier University also has a nice list of resources on their website.
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