Advent Riffs: First Sunday

The Epistle reading today, from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, includes this prayer:  

“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all …” 

Let your love increase and abound. Love one another. More than loving one another in the group of Christians in Thessalonia, love all—love those inside the group, those outside, all people.  

Paul’s admonition brings me back to a poem that came to me through a friend and has stayed with me over the past few months. “A Great Need” was written by the Persian poet Hafez, who lived in the 14th century. 

A Great Need

by Hafez

Out

Of a great need

We are all holding hands

And climbing.

Not loving is a letting go.

Listen,

The terrain around here

Is

Far too

Dangerous

For

That.

Today, 700 years later, COVID shows how dangerous it is to let go of one another. 

Vaccination, masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds—all these practices layer protection around those we love. Refusal to protect—whether characterized as personal choice or individual freedom—becomes the freedom to infect, as COVID spreads through the air we breathe. Someone without symptoms still breathes out the virus, not knowing who it may infect. One person gets a mild infection while another suffers with impaired lungs and heart and strength and another dies.

Around the world, more than five million people have died of this plague. In the United States, more than 770,000 people have died. Here in Minnesota, more than 9,338 people have died of COVID. And the end is not yet in sight. 

Rich countries and companies argue over patents and profits for the vaccines while poor countries wait. Virus and variants spread inexorably around our interconnected world. 

We are all holding hands

And climbing.

Not loving is a letting go.

We share one world, one beautiful, precious, fragile planet. The physical terrain around us is scarred by fire and flood, by ocean waters rising as the planet warms, by storms made more intense as the climate changes, by poisons released into the water and air. Our social terrain is scarred by wars, by racism and other hatreds, by disease, by famine, by letting go and walling out and pushing away instead of holding hands and loving one another. 

Holding hands means finding common ground. Find something we can agree to move forward on. Maybe paying for preschool or for day care. Maybe adding dental care to Medicare. Maybe welcoming Afghan refugees. Maybe protecting a river. Maybe saving a farm or a park or a tree. If we agree, we can climb together. 

We can focus on what we can hold together, not on what drives us apart. We can find things that holds us together, even some small thing. We can say “Let us work together to tie a quilt and give it away. To buy books for this classroom. To find a better-paying job for one person.” 

Each of us lives one life, one beautiful, precious, fragile life. None of us makes it through life alone. We need one another. We need to love one another. Because not loving is a letting go, and the terrain is too dangerous for that. 

x x x

I know the federal fiscal year begins on October 1 every year, so this is now Fiscal Year 2022. I didn’t know the church calendar does something similar: the first Sunday of Advent officially begins the liturgical year 2022. I like Advent as the beginning of the year, a time of hope and beginnings in the midst of winter closing down on us. 

Sunday scripture readings run on a three-year cycle, so this year’s readings are the same as those of 2018/2019, however you want to number that Advent. That was the year that I began writing these riffs on the Advent Sunday scriptures. If you’d like to look back, here’s the link to the first one

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