Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Learning to Live in the In-Between Places

Today, the seniors back at Greenville are teaching the rest of the campus about the problems of poverty at home and abroad. Some have focused on the global issues of wealth distribution, clean water, and agricultural development--particularly in countries like Rwanda (where we have a college presence). Others have chosen to focus on the local context--the county ministerial alliance, a near-by shelter for battered women, the public education system. Having read Ron Sider's classic, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, my hope is that students have captured both something of the complexity of the problem as well as the hope that the gospel of Christ can bring to bear on specific cultural issues.

In choir at Morning Prayer today we read from that wonderful canticle of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 where the "upside-down" revolution promised by a just and holy God brings an eschatalogical vision of what might yet be. It was this same hope that permeated all of the leading characters in the Gospel of Luke's opening chapters. Each of them is found waiting and hoping--from Elizabeth who desires a child to Simeon who longs to see the advent of the Lord. "Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace," he is able to say at long last, while we are told that the child in Elizabeth's womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy when she hears Mary's good news.

The difficulty for most of us is that we either confine the coming of God to "pie in the sky, in the sweet bye and bye," or we expect it to be completed today. Advent beckons us to live in the "already, but not yet" of expectancy--neither giving in to the pessimism that pervades so many that nothing can happen this side of glory or the militancy that insists on immediate change. Learning to live in that liminal place is perhaps the biggest challenge that faces the Christian community.

But, nonetheless, my prayers are with the seniors today (including my own daughter who has labored passionately on her project). I pray that they will not forget all that they have learned nor abandon their passion when the going gets tough. Most of all, I pray that they will be willing to learn to live in the "in-between" places of which Advent speaks, where we come to understand something not only of the heart of God but about both the pain and hope that pervade Kingdom work.