“People, Look East….Love is a Guest, a Rose, a Star, and the Lord and Love is coming.” Eleanor Farejeon.
I’m taking up Love, Power, and Justice yet again. I read this work by Tillich years ago as part of an Advent exercise when members of my congregation met with the youth of the neighborhood to discuss the words in the book’s title and though this may not seem like Advent reading, it is. That will become evident in this post, but first let me give you the book in a nutshell with thanks to W.G. Dalton of Boston University, whose review of Tillich’s work I draw on.
For Tillich we live in a world of estrangement though we strive for reunion from whom we are separated…..God and other beings. “Love” is the drive for the reunion of the separated. To accomplish this “love” utilizes the compulsory nature of “power” to destroy that which is against love. That “power” is always to be found in a being’s relationship with another. “Justice” becomes the instrument by which “power” actualizes itself to serve love. It argues that a being is just that and not a thing and anything that diminishes the being by reducing it to a thing is counter to “love” and must be destroyed by love’s power. Love is the ontological reality utilizing power through justice to accomplish the reunion to whom we ultimately belong. [As for the heady that is all you will get here.]
What does this have to do with Advent? It is this….we live in a strange time. The youth of that Advent time got it. There were decorations everywhere, trees and homes were lit up, the radio played holiday songs and the stores were loaded with good things. There were all these things, but they lived in homes that were often cold and the only hot meal during the day a few received would be gone in the coming days as the schools were closed. In fact more than a few were with us because there was a hot meal to be had. The joviality of the time did not always make sense. Besides they also lived in a world where love was not always apparent, power abused, and justice too often a non-starter. It is important for me to tell you that assessment came from their words, which were neither angry nor dismissive of these things; but only that these were often missing or fractured in their lives.
Our time with the youth often brought us to the sanctuary. Here there was a porcelain figure of Mary. They knew about her, after all we talked about her a lot and a few of those youth were from families that had a very developed devotion to her. The young people also heard about her in the way that those of us with all the world’s responsibilities could not. She was the one who said the hungry and the poor would have good things. How lovely was her vision and how wonderful would be the world for which she strove where the poor and the hungry would no longer be estranged having to wait for these. These youth were in a world where they too could only wait for good things as they did not possess the power to affect this and here was Mary next to an empty manger waiting for something very good to happen. She was just like them.
And the good was about to happen….Love was to be born. And it was a love born of God’s power that bypassed the great Pax Romana and the religious conventions of the day with a justice these could not comprehend. One could only wonder as to how God would do the same in our day if He had to deal with the Pax Americana and the Churches.
Only God does deal with this. It is Advent after all and we are like Mary and those youth that year. We are waiting for Love to come to town. And Love is coming to town.
The manger is empty, but it will not long be that way. God’s power is clearing the threshing floor of everything that stands counter to love and the arc of God’s justice is changing the rules to make us into the people who are capable of receiving that love for only those capable of love are capable of knowing Love.
The property owners do not yet get it. They are absent from Mary as she readies for the pain of labor. She is attended by those who keep the fields of the wealthy instead. And she is attended by Joseph who she knows not in a great romance, but rather as her protector who only holds her hand and brushes the hair back from her brow as she brings Love into the world. Even the beasts are ignoble in the eyes of the world, working animals that plow fields and provide for food. The wealthy and powerful are still far away discerning what God wants, perplexed as their sign in the sky grows ever closer to the frail earth and leading them not to the likes of Rome or Bagdad, but a Judean backwater instead. To these God’s power and His justice make little sense and yet they were willing to be led.
This is the time we are in. We are either marginalized or empowered. We are either great in the world’s eyes or of no account. We are either waiting with a young couple for Love to be born or we are so possessed with our things and influence, we are looking around for it until we surrender to the faint but growing light that leads us to the place where with Mary and Joseph and simple people and animals we too may see Love.
Love will arrive. It will arrive with God’s power and justice to crush every vile thing that would rile against it. Love is not here, but it is coming to town. In the meantime it is Advent. Scholars, rulers, the poor and the hungry all ask what love is. Some wait patiently and others reflect and write or travel great distances to discover it. But Love is coming and it is drawing us together out of our estrangement to be one with God and each other. It is uniting the people I know: the neighborhood youth, friends, those with cognitive disabilities, medical personnel, social service folk, the lonely and investment bankers and its light is pouring down not only on Bethlehem, but over mountains and oceans and in Chicago, Amador, Munchweiler, the counties of northern Ohio and also those places I have not seen.
It is Advent. Very soon it will be Advent no more and the waiting will be done. We will not be estranged. We will all be one with another watching Mary hold Love in her arms as she invites us to do the same and to dwell in that world where the light of His love may always be known.