Editor’s note: This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
By Rev. Elizabeth McCord
A mess! The whole world is a mess! Large scale violence in Tunis, Kunduz, Aleppo, Baghdad, Beirut, Paris, San Bernardino. More than 51 million people living under forced displacement. Degrees away from the catastrophic results of climate change. The planet’s sixth great extinction of species. Hate speech trumpeted by national leaders. A recalcitrant political system. Mass incarceration. And so much more. The world is an overwhelming, unrelenting mess!
And yet the holidays are upon us. I for one have switched my radio from NPR to continuous Christmas music and shifted my web surfing from breaking news to Amazon’s daily deals. In our sanctuary we have made space for our Advent wreath with the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love. Each Sunday children take turns lighting these candles, children who for the most part are sheltered from the fires of hopelessness, violence, despair, and hatred that burn so vigorously around us.
In Isaiah 58, the prophet warns of going through the motions of ritual observance without attending to God’s deeper calling for justice. Sackcloth and ashes benefit no one when there are bonds to loose and yokes to break. Similarly, our adorned homes and worship places, our Christmas carols and Advent wreaths are meaningless fluff if they are not accompanied by bread for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and justice for the oppressed.
Lighting the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love cannot just be a charming ritual. It must be a prophetic kindling of these spiritual gifts in our hearts, our communities, and our world. These four flames, crowned by the central Christ candle, illumine God’s call for us to repair and restore. Only then will our healing spring up quickly and our light break forth like the dawn.
Rev. Elizabeth McCord is associate dean for vocation at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.