Thursday, December 3, 2015

The People Who Walked in Darkness

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the season of Advent coincides with the shorting of daylight, and the lengthening of dark nights.  The further north, the more exaggerated this is.  No wonder the ancient people erected standing stones in Scotland and England to track the annual movement of the moon and sun and celebrated the winter solstice, when the days begin to lengthen once again.

One of the new advent hymns "The People Who Walked in Darkness" #86 in the Glory to God Hymnal is a fresh paraphrase of Isaiah 9:2-7 by Mary Louise Bringle set to music by Sally Ann Morris.
"The people who walked in darkness awaken to see a great light.
The people who dwelt in the land of the shadow rise to the star shining bright."
As I write there are people facing mental illness, some exacerbated by the darkness, SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Some families and congregations grieve the loss of loved ones, brighter times, a sacred place.  Others grieve anticipating what the future might hold.

As I write there are people walking in darkness in Colorado and California after two more mass shootings.  Gun violence in America, which exceeds any other country, once again fills our news cycle until some other news saves us.

As I write there are refugees fleeing war and persecution in Syria.  Syrian refugee immigrates are seeking refuge in Europe and the United States and are being welcomed and served with a gracious welcome in many cases, AND by stiff resistance fueled by fear.

As I write over one hundred world leaders are gathered in Paris, France, to discuss strategies and seeking commitments for addressing our human impact on climate change.

It is into such a world, that God comes among us in Jesus.  It is into such darkness that the bright star of his goodness shines bright.  It is during this season of Advent when we remember the story of how Joseph and Mary were forced by government edict to go to Bethlehem and were welcomed into a crowded peasant home (Luke 2).  We read how word of Jesus' birth threatened King Herod, who ordered the murder of all the children in and around Bethlehem under the age of two.  Being warned of this in a dream Joseph fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2).  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his family were political refugee immigrants.  Thank God for those who gave them refuge.

Note the two verbs of the hymn's opening verse, "awaken" and "rise." As disciples of Jesus today, may we awaken to see God's shining light of goodness, and rise to its brightness!   May we give witness to God's love for this world through our radical welcome and generous hospitality.  We can do so out of the largess of God's bounteous goodness.  Paraphrasing Isaiah, the hymn's second verse speaks of how "God has enlarged the nation,"  and the "people are blest" so the nation, so the people might be a blessing, to join God in confronting "the yoke of despair and bondage."  This is in stark contrast to political rhetoric today calling for the building of greater walls of separation to control our national borders, and resistance to receiving any Syrian Refugees.  Awakened to God's love, may we resist the fear mongering, and rise find ways of welcoming the stranger, and of breaking down barriers which divide.

I share below Detroit Presbytery's letter to government officials.  I encourage you to use this as a template.  Adapt this letter and sent it to your government officials.  Also, the Synod of the Covenant has information for congregations interested in hosting refugees, and is providing $5000 grants to assist congregations doing so Synod Link.   Please let me know of any activity toward Syrian Refugee Relief.  
[Title] [first name] [Last name]
Dear [title] [last name]:
The Presbytery of Detroit, the regional association of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) churches in Southeast Michigan, approved the following resolution at its November 21, 2015 meeting, and directed that it be sent to you and others:
A resolution to show Christ’s Love to Syrian Refugees
The Presbytery of Detroit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) communicates to you and others our disappointment in efforts to delay and/or block immigration of refugees from war-torn and oppressive countries. In particular, recent efforts against Syrian refugees should be reversed. State and national efforts should address relieving the humanitarian crisis, facilitating expedient immigration processing and supporting relocation in America.
We make this petition for the following reasons:
Those fleeing Syria are leaving behind all they own, running for their lives in great fear of ISIS and the Assad regime. Those scheduled to arrive in Michigan applied for asylum in the US years ago and have been going through a comprehensive vetting process. America does not make itself safer by ignoring our common humanity and turning away from our moral obligations. We are a country of immigrants and refugees, a country founded by those fleeing religious persecution and seeking religious freedom. A country with liberty and justice for all.
This request is based on our faith in Jesus Christ. Numerous times in Mosaic Law and in the words of the prophets, Israel is commanded, “Love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). Jesus then builds on this longstanding tradition by declaring in Matthew 25 that whenever we welcome the stranger, caring for them in their hunger, thirst, sickness, and poverty, we are welcoming Jesus himself. He also makes clear that when we fail to respond to those needs (or even to notice them in front of us), we are turning our backs on the very God we claim to follow. Scripture also repeatedly admonishes us to “trust the Lord, “do not be afraid,” and “do not return evil for evil.”
The Rev. Edward H Koster, Stated Clerk
The Presbytery of Detroit

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)