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Advent Repentance and Joy
Listen: Interview with Ched Myers
Purple and deep rose
By Marva Dawn
This article originally appeared in the December 2010.
When you receive this issue of the newsletter, it will be the Church Year season of Advent, the four weeks of preparation for the coming of the ChristChild. Because of the Church’s choice of Introits (or Entrance verses) for the four Sundays in Advent many centuries ago, the liturgical colors for these days are two weeks of purple, signaling repentance, followed by one week when the Introit is “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice!” of deep rose or pink—the color of Joy—followed by one more Sunday of purple. Those colors and their meaning are deeply consequential for me throughout the year in my concern for the hungry, but especially in Advent. I have found it helpful even to wear the color of the day so that I can enter more deeply into its significance.
We certainly need to begin our Advent season with repentance this year. Our nation has been so busy fighting with each other—especially in the recent election as Democrats, Republicans and Tea Party candidates hurled nasty comments and advertisements about each other—that we haven’t made as much progress as we could have in working against poverty in the world. Still 25,000 people die each day of hunger-related causes. Still 1.02 billion people in the world are hungry.
Our Savior entered the world in poverty. Can you imagine being laid as an infant in scratchy, smelly straw? Too often we romanticize Christ’s birth in making our Christmas Eve sentimental, instead of recognizing the reality of the wretched stable, with its aroma of manure and inhospitality to the young mother and her child. Even as we cringe to acknowledge that reality for our beloved Lord, so Advent calls us to recoil similarly from the horrible conditions in which some of our fellow human beings barely survive. Our wanting the surroundings to have been different for our adored ChristChild fills us with eager desire to make things better for the needy in our world.
Repentance is good for us. It constantly reminds us that we humans cannot “fix” things by ourselves. Only by the grace and power of God at work through us, in spite of us, and beyond us can our sinfulness be opposed by genuine care for those in poverty. That is one reason why, after two weeks of repentance in Advent, we burst out with Joy! Christ has indeed come to do the “fixing.” He has conquered our human sinfulness with the fullness of His suffering and death, the finality of His victory in the Resurrection. He has come into our lives with forgiveness and the possibility of a “new creation,” so that we can be changed from our selfish greediness into a grand generosity for the sake of a needy world. He will come again to do away with deprivation and scarcity forever. These three comings of Christ that we celebrate in Advent fill us with profound Joy in the eternal “fixing” of this broken world by our Triune God who reigns unceasingly.
Because we want to participate more fully in God’s mission of calling people to Himself and His purposes, we spend one more Sunday in repentance before we celebrate Christmas. Because we rejoice so fully in the incarnation of Jesus, we long to be wrapped up in His life of service to the world. May we enter eagerly into the work of Bread for the World and other groups that contribute to the healing of the nations—until He comes again!
Marva Dawn is a theologian who teaches and preaches around the world. Among her 25 books is Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society (Westminster John Knox Press, 2003).