Shadows of Advent

Daily Office readings for Sunday, December 23, 2012:

Psalm 24, 29 (Morning)

Psalm 8, 84 (Evening)

Isaiah 42:1-12

Ephesians 6:10-20

John 3:16-21

Isaiah 42:1-12 NRSV: Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth! Let the sea roar and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants. Let the desert and its towns lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits; let the inhabitants of Sela sing for joy, let them shout from the tops of the mountains. Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the coastlands.

“That’s a dangerous worm on the floor between your feet,” Canon Morris Dulla told me while I was visiting with him in his office near Fraser Cathedral in Lui, South Sudan.

I looked down and discovered a two inch long, fuzzy black caterpillar with straw-colored spikes coming out of his body. “Really? It doesn’t look like much.” I sat there quietly, fully expecting him to do something akin to our mission team’s usual response to scary insects and arachnids–remove one of our flip-flops and bludgeon it into oblivion. But instead, Canon Morris simply took two pieces of paper, scooted the caterpillar onto one of them by using the other as a brush, transported it outside, and dumped it into the grass. Despite the fact that its spines were poisonous, he had felt no need to kill it. Shades of the first part of today’s reading from Isaiah!

Although I was fully aware that being in an unfamiliar place meant I had little clue whether certain creepy crawly critters were dangerous or not, my tack had been to kill any and all that looked even the least bit suspicious or larger than I would have expected for what it was. Of course, my definition of “suspicious” had more to do with my personal inability to name the offending bug than it did anything else. It seemed bewildering that someone who lived here and knew the various dangerous creatures would not choose to squish one.

It suddenly dawned on me that the locals there were more into shooing troublesome creatures away (the one notable exception being a particularly aggressive snake) than they were into killing them. It struck me that their acceptance of living among poisonous fauna was way ahead of mine. Clearly, I had much to learn from them about stewardship and dominion. It was also clear that, to borrow from our reading in Ephesians today, their “armor of God” was to be un-rattled about these various creatures and instead, coexist with them.

Canon Morris’ actions also exposed my zeal in bug-killing to be an illusion. No matter how many scorpions, spiders, and yes, even “dangerous worms” I theoretically sent to their reward, the fact was that there were infinitely more of them than me waiting out in the bush. Killing one didn’t do a thing for protecting anyone, in the long run–it only created a brief moment of protection against the offending creepy-crawly critter. There would still be plenty more, and being overly obsessed with their removal actually detracted from the work that really needed to occur in South Sudan. It was a reminder that we sure have a tendency to chase around in the shadows after all the evils that might (or might not) bother us instead of focusing on the light–and isn’t that the message of Advent?

Advent calls us to see the light and be drawn to it, despite the abundance of darkness and danger in the world. It challenges us to leave the fears and perils in our lives to be in their own darkness rather than waste energy hunting them down to feed our illusions of control. To be beckoned to the light is actually a call for us to keep our distance from the obsessive gravitational pull of that black hole we call sin.

How is the light of Christ revealing to you what needs to be avoided in the shadows of your life this Advent?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid. Dr. Evans recently returned from a mission trip from the Diocese of Missouri to the Episcopal Diocese of Lui, South Sudan.

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