As the season of Advent began, I found myself singing the song, “Come Down Jesus” made famous by Jose Feliciano some years ago. It is not necessarily an Advent song, but the statement in the song “Jesus, you won’t believe the things you see today,” caught my attention. During Advent we remember that the God we worship is the God who comes to us. In the Season of Advent, we acknowledge that God comes to us in every circumstance of our lives. However, when God comes, what will God find? What will God find in our world, and more importantly, how will God find us dealing with the issues of our time? There are some things which have defined this year and it may well be these issues that God will be seeing. Let us talk about two of these issues.
What will be seen when God looks at our environment? November 30 marks the end of the Atlantic hurricane season and what a season this has been. Hurricanes are categorized on a scale of 1– 6 according to wind speeds. A Category 1 hurricane, for example, is between 119–153 km/h and has “very dangerous winds that will produce some damage.” On the other hand, a Category 5 hurricane is 252 km/h or higher where “catastrophic damage will occur.” Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes. This year’s hurricane season spawned 10 hurricanes and of this 6 were major hurricanes. In the space of a few weeks, this year, we experienced four Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. This year’s season was among the most active in recorded history, and is certainly among the costliest. Massive destruction was caused and even today places like Puerto Rico, Dominica, St. Maarten/St. Martin, Barbuda, and the Virgin Islands are yet to return to a comfortable degree of normalcy.
The reality is that hurricanes feed on warm waters. The warmer than usual waters of the Atlantic Ocean this year contributed the boost that led to the development of so many major hurricane systems in so short a space of time.
At the end of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season you cannot but wonder what we have done to make earth warmer. Even if you are not a believer in global warming you must admit that something is happening to the earth. The Bible teaches us that we are stewards of the creation. As stewards our responsibility is to care for the earth, even as we use the earth to enable our livelihood. Apart from an active hurricane season, we also have been regaled with news of plastic in the rivers, pollution of our atmosphere, the death of plants and animals, the melting of the polar icecaps, and the list goes on. In each of these cases there was some implication of human activity which has caused the problem.
Will the God who comes to us find a planet that is not as healthy because of our actions? If so, then as we celebrate Advent, what will we be doing to help our planet healthier?
Immigration and Race Relations
Canada prides itself on being a multicultural society. However, during the past year the issues of immigration and welcoming the stranger seems to have become a recurring theme in the news. Along with legitimate concerns about illegal immigration, there were also those who opposed the presence of Muslims, Syrians, Haitians, and people of colour in general in Canada. During this year anti-immigrant posts on social media in Canada have increased visibility. In addition, there have been frequent demonstrations by those who oppose immigration and argue that the immigration of people of colour or people from different cultures and religions are an affront to Canadian society.
This has been a year where the lofty ideal of multiculturalism, as espoused by Canada, was questioned and came under tremendous strain. Thankfully there were enough people who have pushed back and sought to ensure that the ideal of multiculturalism is maintained. Yet we cannot ignore that the acceptance of the foreigner and different cultures in this country is far from being unanimous.
In October of this year something significant occurred in Edmonton. The Alberta and Northwest Conference of The United Church of Canada held the first-ever dialogue in this church about racism as it affects Black people in The United Church of Canada. We heard stories of black women who had their personal space invaded. We also heard of black men being treated with suspicion and made to feel like outsiders to the church.
The reality is that the church is a product of its society. If there is racism in our society, you will find it in the church. However, as a church we must be vigilant to take corrective measures when it occurs among us. We are also called to be the prophetic voice to the nation to decry narrowmindedness, racism, and white privilege in all its forms. Mind you the only way we can take a stance against these ills and have any integrity doing so is if we are willing to be vigilant about these same issues in church.
So, will the God who comes to us find intolerance, racism, white privilege, and xenophobia rampant in our society? Or will God instead find the voices “crying in the wilderness,” and assiduously working for righteousness and for a better society?
Let me be clear, I do not believe that God will find a perfect world. But I believe that God can find a world where God’s people are working to make this world a better place. Indeed, a world where those of us who believe in God are seeking to embody what we believe in the ways that we live. Our faith must take on flesh and be seen in you and me in the things we do, heard in the words we say, and discerned in the ways we relate. While this does not guarantee success, it does call on us to be faithful to what we believe and who we are as the people of God. My minister back home constantly reminded me, “God did not call you to be successful. God called you to be faithful.”
As we close this year and prepare to celebrate the Festival of the Nativity, it is my prayer that the God who comes will find each us faithfully embodying our faith, especially as we relate to the environment and to each other.
—Paul Douglas Walfall is the ministry personnel in the Fort Saskatchewan Pastoral Charge in the Yellowhead Presbytery, Alberta and Northwest Conference.