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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

What Are We Waiting For?
distributed 12/6/13 - ©2013

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Rebekah Simon-Peter & Jerry Gonzales, of Casper, Wyoming. Their generous support helps make this publication possible.
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Most church-going folk know that we're six days into Advent -- the season of the church year defined by terms like waiting, anticipation, and preparation.

This is a season that can have profound eco-justice significance, if we pay lots of attention to a common question, "What are we waiting for?"

There is, of course, a huge difference between the religious waiting of Advent and the consumerist anticipation that is whipped into a frenzy by seasonal marketing. For Christians -- in those moments when we are well-centered in faith and spirituality -- we are not waiting for a new TV set, high-fashion ensemble, or other merchandise that might be unwrapped on Christmas Day. Those material expectations take us in the wrong direction.

There is a sense in which we wait -- metaphorically -- for the birth of Jesus. We connect with prophetic anticipation of a Messiah, and we use birth narratives to move us to joy about the good news of incarnation. That's part of it, but only the start of Advent waiting.

The experts in liturgical observance insist that the waiting of Advent is not only about Jesus back then, but about the Realm of God which is still to come. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the first act; the "second coming" which brings the fullness of God's shalom is anticipated as the final act of the play.

That's the ecclesiastical and theological emphasis of the season. Eco-justice themes are at the core of that message, but it takes some work to bring it to the forefront of an Advent observance. We have to push through comfortable and acculturated traditions so that we can find the liberating promise that can be the heart of Advent, and of a year-round faith.

The promised realm of God is a transformation of human society, and it brings changes to relationships throughout creation. God's shalom is profoundly different from the aspirations of "developed" modern societies -- aspirations that, for most of us, are "the air that we breathe" in invisibly and unconsciously shaping our expectations.

In God's realm, peace with justice in service of God is the guiding principle, the measure by which all else is evaluated. Community is more important that individualism. Sufficiency and sustainability trump growth and affluence. All people, all creatures, and coming generations are recognized as having moral claims that shape our options. The realm of God does not look like charming Christmas card scenes of Victorian elites riding in horse-drawn sleighs. Nor does it look like a high-tech future of amazing gizmos that give some people control over, and separation from, the natural world.

God's shalom looks like the enticing setting described by Zechariah -- of young and old, male and female, living is safety and sufficiency, in a society where there are just wages for people and animals, and where natural systems are reliable and life-giving.

The Realm of God, the society that we anticipate and await, calls on us to turn around our lives and our society. Our anticipation of that promised realm leads us into an awareness of the stark difference between the way we live now and what we lift up as the coming age. If we're serious about waiting in hope and joy, then we should also be deeply troubled by the depletion and destabilization of creation, the prevalence of injustice and inequity, the exploitation of people and resources, and the violence-anger-fear-pain which pervades our world.

The realm of God stands in sharp contrast to the world of our ordinary experience -- which is why we wait for it with great anticipation. (That is also why those who profit from and find their identity in the status quo fight any movement toward the embodiment of God's realm.)

Advent re-centers us in faithful eco-justice principles when we take seriously the transformational quality of God's realm of shalom. When we are clear in naming what we are waiting for, then our anticipation is heightened and our joy is increased.

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There is a second meaning in the question, "What are we waiting for?"

Voiced with excitement and urgency, the question becomes an exclamation. "What are we waiting for! Let's get going right now!"

That sense of the words also has meaning for Advent. When we are waiting for the realm of God to be established, and when we are enticed and enthused about the goodness of peace-with-justice through all Creation, then we don't want to put it off. We'll want to move as quickly as possible into that glorious establishment of right relationship.

And so, the season of waiting and anticipation is also a season of action. Because we long for God's realm, we are eager to do our part in bringing it about. We can't do it on our own, of course. But because we are passionately committed to every aspect of God's shalom, we are unwilling and unable to wait passively. As theologian Gabe Fackre wrote, "Advent, therefore, means preparation. It calls us to attention before what and who is to come. ... We make ready for the Liberator by acts of liberation now, and we prepare for the Reconciler as agents of reconciliation now."

I write this week as the world learns of the death of Nelson Mandela, and celebrates his life of liberation and reconciliation. In his astonishing life, we see a vibrant historical expression of both aspects of the Advent question, "What are we waiting for?" Tata Mandela was a beloved and visionary father to his people -- and he was a figure who evoked fear among others -- because he knew precisely the kind of inclusive and just society that he wanted in South Africa, and he was unwilling to wait passively in the work of creating that society.

Advent can have profound eco-justice significance when we are equally clear in answering, "What are we waiting for?" Let us lift up Nelson Mandela, and other contemporary saints in the struggle for shalom, as icons of Advent. May Nelson and those others guide us into a spirit of active waiting, anticipation and preparation. May they show us a form of waiting that enlivens Advent and every day in the joyous work for peace with justice for all creation.

PS -- Pastors, educators and others looking for a musical reference to both sides of the "waiting" question will appreciate the song by Remedy Drive, including the lines:
There's a kingdom in the distance
Look beyond the shadow that hides the substance
Cause we've got something to live for
So tell me what are we waiting for
Redemption moves like a river
Let's jump in the water, get off the shore
Tell me what are we waiting for

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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