Darkness gathers around us in November. We begin with All Souls and All Saints, remembering the dead in a season of dying. Last leaves fall, rattling along the street in November winds, crackling underfoot until silenced by rain or snow. Final flowers fade, frost-killed, gardens fading to brown and gray and black.
Earth quiets in November, slowing down as darkness gathers around us. We feel winter coming in the hushed anticipation of November’s clouds and bare branches following October’s brilliant leaves and skies. This year, plague led descent into the cold of winter, as hospital emergency rooms overflowed. The pandemic is only one variant of suffering. Famine threatens Afghanistan, Haiti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Angola, Kenya, and Burundi, while chronic hunger and malnutrition ravage even more countries. Wars continue, albeit far from our shores, driving refugees by the millions from their homes and homelands. Over us all, the threat of global climate change looms.
Fear and despair threaten, seeming to settle like smog across the land.
Fear believes conspiracy theories, blaming the other, the immigrants, the scientists, the government. Fear turns to false prophets and lies, and to magic potions of dirt or bleach or hydrogen peroxide.
Despair denies hope and progress, focuses on failure, says we cannot change. A deadlocked Congress, the nightly news, and social media say there is no way forward and nothing we can do. Headlines highlight bad news over good. “November job creation is a bust,” reads the headline, ignoring an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, the lowest in 50 years, and growth in the gross domestic product for the year at the highest rate in 40 years.
Against fear and despair, we claim the Advent promise, the promise in the Letter to the Philippians that “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.” We are called to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” We are on a journey. We can move forward.
In Maryknoll’s Advent Guide 2021: A Time of Hope and Healing, lay missioner Peg Vamosy writes:
“All of creation is waiting to see what we humans choose to do. Will we rush back to ‘normal’ patterns of consumerism, convenience, comfort, and indifference to anyone or anything but ourselves, or will we embark on a new path to restore the earth to right relationships, with God, with each other and with all of creation?
“…[This] should be an opportunity and a time of hope, because we can transform this reality. We don’t have to return to the normal we left behind; we can choose a more fertile ground in which to plant the seeds for the harvest that God wills.”
Light will return. We human beings claim that promise each December, lighting Advent wreaths and Hannukah menorahs and Yule logs and the oil lamps of Diwali, draping lights over trees and windows and porches, bringing green and life and hope inside with wreaths and trees.
An Advent wreath liturgy shared by Sisters Kay and Annette Fernholz includes this verse from a hymn written by Dr. Norman Habel:
Light and Glory fills our planet, Breaking through with every dawn, Bursting from cocoons in hiding Where new butterflies are born. Searing fire in deep volcanoes, Rainbow arcs across the land Sign to us that God is present In the finest grain of sand.
Light returns. Life returns. With the liturgical year, we move from remembrance of the dead in November to Advent’s pregnant promise. As we claim that promise, we renew our commitment to live and love and work for a better world.