PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
LK 10: 21-24
Hope, Promise, and Fulfillment:
“I come as a pilgrim of peace and a messenger of hope.”
Throughout the Scripture readings of Advent are littered conceptions of promise and fulfillment. The prophet Isaiah and the passage of today’s reading serve to exemplify this. Throughout the book of Isaiah is the hope and promise of a future prophet, a wise and just leader. Isaiah’s hopes are exemplified in the psalm as well (psalm 72). The psalmist anticipates this perfect king proclaiming peace and justice.
In our own world, on our campus at SLU, Advent is often full of this desire for peace, hope, and fulfillment. It’s a four week long sigh, one that can be deeply exhaled into a sense of full stillness and presence. It’s an alternative to our busyness, an insistent invitation to pay attention. This year (not unlike other years) there’s a tiredness, a feeling of depletion. I see it in the students I connect with, and in my interactions with colleagues across campus. Busyness and self-inflicted chaos shrink our worldview, our ability to be present, and our empathy for others. Advent is an invitation to sit right here. In this moment as we are and with what we are carrying. Not who we wish we were or what we are capable of at some elusive time and place in the future. It is a time to consider who we are and who God will become. How the anticipation of the Incarnation will be lived out.
But what of Isaiah’s call to justice? How can we marry this need for stillness with this call to justice? As we consider ourselves in this place and time, and the anticipation of Emmanuel (God with us) Pope Francis offers a poignant illustration.
This past week Pope Francis arrived in the Central African Republic (CAR). He is there to inaugurate the year of mercy. The CAR is a country marked by intense conflict causing the flight of almost a million refugees, contentious regional factions (often along religious lines), and a tumultuous presidential election on the horizon later this month. Upon his arrival he said to the gathered crowd; “I come as a pilgrim of peace and a messenger of hope.”
In light of today’s readings there is a particular significance to his visit. The road ahead for this conflict torn country will be long and arduous. Much like the first reading from Isaiah there is a call to righteousness and peace rooted in justice and the impossibility of oppositional factions becoming neighbors, co-creators.
There is a clarity to the righteousness Isaiah speaks of, one that Pope Francis echos. Not righteousness in the sense of self-righteousness that we often think of today. But rather a firm insistence that God stands on the side of the poor, of the suffering, of the marginalized. In the second part of the passage Isaiah illustrates several contradictory images of foes co-existing peacefully; “the wolf shall be a guest, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid”. These and others are more than some adorable Buzzfeed article of cute animals cuddling. They are seemingly paradoxical illustrations that may lead us to justice. Or as Pope Francis spoke of from the CAR an appeal to “lay down the instruments of death.”
I encourage you to sit with this paradoxical need for inner stillness and ardent work for justice this Advent. How might we imitate become pilgrims of peace and messengers of hope? Perhaps our need and ability to cultivate a deeper sense of spiritual wellness and abundance might lead us to greater compassion to our intertwined communities from here in St. Louis to the Central African Republic. Our personal abundance and global justice might intersect at our Advent desire for hope, promise, and fulfillment in our sustaining Creator.
Cynthia Enghauser is Campus Minister for the Nursing School and the College for Public Health and Social Justice.