Advent is nearly over; Christmas is near. Followers of Christ anticipate celebrating his three comings–in Bethlehem, upon his eventual return to earth, and in our hearts. We who are older have lived through many Advents and welcomed many Christmas mornings. For me, there is joy at the commemoration of his incarnation, yet also disappointment regarding the latter two of the three comings. I have waited many years for Christ’s return to earth, and find that my heart has not changed much as I had hoped by his presence within me.
I look around and see a world in disarray–terrorists ascendant in the Middle East, disease rampaging through Africa, the environment being ravaged, totalitarianism reigning over millions. In our country, many are mourning the victims of violence, and many are hungry, homeless, or living in fear. Many turn to greed, pride, distraction, or gluttony for relief, but these are empty consolations.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I thought that we followers of Christ, along with other people of goodwill, could change the world–not entirely, perhaps, but enough to make it a better place for the great majority of its residents. Now I am in my sixties, and it is apparent that, despite much good that has been done, hatred and fear and self-interest have as much hold on the human race as ever.
Decades in a world full of suffering and sorrow tempt me to retreat from pursuing peace and justice–to instead hunker down until Christ’s final return. Except for one thing. On this planet where I’ve lived for over six decades, this planet filled with injustice and human suffering, there have also been living followers of Christ who have selflessly pursued causes such as overcoming discrimination and providing care to the needy. Martin Luther King, Jr., Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa, Bob Pierce, John Perkins, Desmond Tutu, Paul Farmer–these are just a few of the thousands who have brought hope to the hurting. Christ, have you not made your presence manifest in the lives of these servants of yours?
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12, NRSV).” Could he have been referring here to the works done by those who feed the hungry, free the captives, and proclaim the good news? Come, Lord Jesus, come. Enable those of us who believe in you to do your work in the world.