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by Kate Kooyman
“…the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:5)
Every advent is a journey through darkness into light — but this advent feels especially dark, am I right?
I preached last Sunday on this passage from Isaiah 40, which begins, “Comfort, O Comfort my people,” and I admitted that I wasn’t up for the task of preaching comfort. I wasn’t even really feeling ready to proclaim with confidence that the light is coming. I’m not feeling it. I’m scared, and sad, and not ready to talk about hope.
I’m a straight white American Christian who grew up in the 1980s, so I really have no muscle memory for how to cope with darkness. I was born into comfort, reading about war in far-off places, thanking God for my daily bread and my fully stocked extra freezer, paying attention to politics out of interest and not because I found myself tangibly impacted by the party in power.
It seems clear that in order to find my way around this darkness, I will need to lean on a memory that is not my own.
I need a borrowed memory if I’m to claim the hope that Joshua DuBois posted after the election: “Remember our history. We have been courageous before, we have survived worse, and we have tremendous capacity to provoke change. We are a Fannie Lou Hamer people, a Martin Luther King people, an Abraham Joshua Heschel people, a Rosa Parks people, an Eleanor Roosevelt people, a Barack Obama people. It is time for strong people to stand up and walk in unreasonable, audacious hope.” I desperately want that hope, so I need to borrow those stories.
I need a borrowed memory if I’m to claim “Comfort, O Comfort my people,” along with Isaiah. Israel had been defeated and enslaved and deported. Darkness was familiar territory for them. And so was the lived-in truth that God showed up, every time. I want that comfort, so I need to borrow those stories.
Isaiah proclaims that when God’s glory comes to us in the wilderness, all people shall see it together. And this is really good news for me. Because I miss it. I fall into these media-fueled fear spirals, overwhelmed by the darkness that’s predicted to come next. Or I numb myself with salt and vinegar chips and Netflix, checked out completely from the real stuff of the world. I fail to recognize it because my eyes can’t adjust. Maybe “all people shall see it together” means that someone will be gracious enough to nudge me and say, “Hey check that out. Over there. A light shines in the darkness.”
It’s already happening. Fifteen of my facebook friends shared the veterans’ apology to the tribes at Standing Rock. A light shines in the darkness.
I was at a meeting today and someone pointed to a house down the street where he’d given refuge to Salvadorans during the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s. A light shines in the darkness.
Time printed the testimony of my friend, who is undocumented and facing an unknown future, who is so brave, and so full of faith and hope. A light shines in the darkness.
I need a borrowed memory, a shared story, eyes that are not my own, if I’m going to be ready during this Advent to proclaim the light that is coming to dwell among us. Comfort, O comfort, is right now coming in the assurance that there are folks who are much more faithful and watchful than me, and that they see hope and light all around, and they love me enough to give me a nudge.
All people shall see it together.