Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent Longing

Have you ever longed for something? I mean really longed for something? You know, that deep yearning and desire for something you just could not wait to have or taste or experience or hold?

Perhaps it was the perfect Christmas toy tucked neatly beneath the tree or the delectable taste of sweet treats hot from the oven. Perhaps it was that brand new release from your favorite artist or the newest computer, gadget, phone or techno-accessory to go on sale. Do you remember the waiting of coming of age…to go to school or stay home by yourself, to drive or vote or even drink? Do you remember the not so distant longing for the end to that hectic and harried day or perhaps the dawn of a new morning, a fresh start divorced from the pain of the past? Perhaps you longed for one more day with a loved one, a familiar face in a strange place, or the passionate embrace of a partner.

Do you remember those feelings of longing and desire? Do you remember the expectation, the hope, the waiting?

Our longings are human: natural and normal desires for something more, whether it is as simple as a longing for a new possession or as complicated as a desire for another.

Our faith ancestors also had longings and desires, visions of a different life, images of an idyllic world of peace and prosperity. The reading this evening from Isaiah is one of many visions of longing recorded in Scripture. Written following the harrowing exiles of both Judah and Jerusalem, this prophetic vision articulates for the Israelite people their own deep desire for a different world, a better life, free from oppression, war and violence; a vision of a return to their homes and their families, a return to their way of life and to their God.

Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel from within their own place of waiting. Captives in Babylon, longing for the God of Sinai to tear open the heavens and come down, the people of Israel wait in the midst of a desperate and despairing world.

We too know what it is like to live in a less than perfect world and long for something better. We know what it is like to wait impatiently for the vision we proclaim in scripture and worship, don’t we?

On World AIDS Day, Archbishop Desmond Tutu described our waiting place in the world of the AIDS pandemic this way:

“We are well into the third decade of a scourge that has expanded exponentially beyond a small specific group to almost every corner of the globe. Whilst in some areas, incidence may have turned, prevalence continues to rise and will do so for a long time- more young people will be infected, more orphans will occur.

Yet, today still 70% of infected people don’t have access to life saving therapies. Many still face stigma, economic deprivation and rejection because of their infection. Many still don’t have access to basic information or simple interventions that will reduce risk. This is not the time for complacency nor apathy.”

For nearly 20 years we have marked December 1st as World AIDS Day, remembering and mourning the loss of 25 million loved ones. We know the waiting place of AIDS well, don’t we? Our community has sat vigil while medical experts and government officials at first tried to ignore the epidemic, blaming it on a marginalized and scape-goated community. We have waited through decades of fear and uncertainty, ignorance and denial. We have waited through years of dreaded diagnoses, repeated hospitalizations, and pharmaceutical cocktails. We have waited through raw sores and racking coughs, T-cell counts and endless check-ups. We have waited as the disease ravaged the bodies and souls of our friends, standing as witnesses in the end at far too many funerals.

We have waited as the disease spread around the globe, infecting those at the margins of other worlds. We have watched drugs withheld for the wealthy, while the poor wither under the stress not just of the disease, but of overwhelming poverty, starvation, violence, and political upheaval. Today in Zimbabwe, where one out of every five adults is infected with HIV/AIDS, the greatest obstacle to care is not the availability of drugs, but the long wait for food and clean water. It is common for HIV/AIDS patients to die waiting for food than of the disease itself.

We know what it is like to live in a waiting world.

It is in the midst of these waiting worlds, that of the Israelite exiles so long ago and ours today, that these visions of a new world marked by peace become so powerful. Isaiah’s vision speaks to us all.

In days to come the mountain of the God’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it…Our God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

This vision of holistic peace comes in the midst of exile and despair to offer hope beyond destruction. It is a collective yearning grounded in God’s promise of salvation and new life. It is God’s promise of the peace that will be when God’s vision of the world is complete.

Swords and spears no longer needed are turned into plowshares and pruning hooks. The tools of destruction have become the tools of production…creation, construction, fruition. Peace for Isaiah is not just the absence of war, but the presence of wholeness, justice, mercy, compassion, love. It is a holistic peace that envelopes every aspect of our lives.

The vision speaks not just to ancient exiles or warring nations, but to us in our own waiting worlds. World AIDS Day is not just a day of mourning. It has become a day of action. In our longing for a better world, we find ourselves re-committed to the struggle, not just for a cure, but for the compassionate care for those 38 million living today with the disease. People with HIV/AIDS can live good and whole lives, marked by wholeness and peace, if we believe and act on that promise.

This vision of a better world is articulated in the themes chosen for each World AIDS Day. For the past several years the theme has been “Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise.” This image of promise is one with which we as Christians should resonate. For indeed as we enter the season of Advent, we enter the season of expectant waiting for the fulfillment of a cosmic promise. It is the same promise given to the Israelite people so many years ago; the promise God has given us of a world of peace and justice, a world where Love reigns and compassion and mercy know no end, a world where the message of the Good News is not just preached but lived.

This vision orients our journey of Advent, begun on World AIDS Day. As we enter Advent, we not only look to the coming of the Divine at Christmas, but we eagerly and expectantly await the fulfillment of God’s cosmic promise of peace.

No comments: