As Christmas approaches, I’ve been reflecting on the caution the season might recommend with regard to justice and public ethics in Alexandria.
The Church rings in its liturgical year with the first Sunday of Advent — this year, Dec. 3. Advent is a period of anticipation and preparation leading up to Christmas, the coming of God into the world. I’d hope to recover the season’s gravity, impetus and urgency.
As much as it looks back to the time preceding Jesus’ birth, Advent anticipates his second and final coming. That’s when God will raise the dead, render final judgment and make the world new in eternity. Cooing baby Jesus and serene child angels, let alone sentimentalized and even cartoonized traditions like Santa, can be extremely misleading. We’re talking about the God of the universe coming in awesome and terrifying power to lay bare every word and deed, to judge and to consummate the entirety of the human race. This is indeed “good news of great joy.” But there’s a oft-repeated condition: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Jesus’ coming into the world is great news and a marvelous gift, if received with repentance. Otherwise, it ought to be petrifying news.
Repentance means turning away or defecting from sin and aligning with God’s reign over his properly ordered creation. The Bible talks about faith not only as a creed, but also as a “way.” Pope Paul VI said that to be evangelized means “adherence to the truths which the Lord in His mercy has revealed; still more, an adherence to a program of life — a life henceforth transformed — which He proposes. In a word, adherence to the kingdom, that is to say, to the ‘new world,’ to the new state of things, to the new manner of being, of living, of living in community, which the Gospel inaugurates.” In addition to personal belief and piety, this includes a corporate dimension: right relationships in families and societies; public morality; just institutions, laws and norms that uphold human dignity and the common good; a “preferential option for the poor,” meaning, as the U.S. bishops have said, that “the poor have the single most urgent economic claim on the conscience of the nation,” or in this case of the city.
In this vein, though I like many things about Alexandria, the prophet Jeremiah’s exhortation increasingly gnaws at me: “‘Peace, peace!’ they say, though there is no peace.” You’re overreacting, don’t be such a doom-and-gloom cynic! There’s nothing so judgment-worthy here.
But a millimeter beneath our public narrative of inclusivity, community and charm lurks considerable injustice and pain. Racial disparity and tension remain palpable. My wife and I perceived hints of it during our recent home-buying experience, and we’ve seen or heard about it firsthand numerous times since. Though surrounded by staggering wealth, many families struggle to meet basic needs, like housing and food. While the city preens itself on its self-styled progressivism, many political forces patently have more to do with propertied interests and not-in-my-backyard than with prophetic justice. Even where there are laudable charitable and advocacy activities, these may overshadow the fact that the poor and marginalized have relatively little organized political voice of their own. And too many churches seem lamentably silent on such issues.
I don’t know what the best solutions are and I’m surely no prophet. But I’m certain there’s no peace as God would have it in Alexandria. So amid the holly, jolly lighted-King-Street Christmas season, I hope we as individuals and as a community will hear and heed Advent’s deeper call to change direction.
The author is a freelance writer on faith-based — and related — issues for the Gazette Packet.