Monday, November 29, 2004

Advent and World AIDS Day

On Sunday, we entered the season of Advent. Even though our culture has surrounded us with the sounds and signs of Christmas, it is important that the Church not cave in to this attempt to commercialize this season. It seems that every year, the Christmas decorations show up earlier. This year, I spotted them in one store on Halloween! The meaningful observance of Christmas depends on the full observance of Advent. Advent is a time of waiting, preparing and hoping. Christmas music, Christmas pageants, and Christmas decorations can make us lose this important season. So, we hold these things back until we are a little closer to Christmas Eve. To keep Advent is to keep clear the meaning of Christmas.

The word "Advent" comes from the Latin word for "coming" or “arriving.” We speak of the return of Christ in three ways; past, present, and future. First, Advent refers to Christ coming as a baby in a manger. Second, Advent refers to Christ repeatedly coming to us in Word and Sacrament and in the fellowship of the Church. Third, Advent is a time to prepare for Christ coming again at the end of time, the Second Coming. In many ways, we can see Advent as a season of darkness, as we wait for the light.

How can we communicate the message of this season to others? How can we encourage others to use these weeks before Christmas as a time of quiet, restrained reflection? It may be that this task, of communicating our message to the world, is much more of a challenge than it was just a few years ago.

Michael Sack, president of a research and marketing firm, claims that today's young people see almost 1000% more images than 60 year olds witnessed in their youth. The impact of this on our ability to communicate the Gospel is important for us to note. Those over 60 find it a lot easier to derive meaning from print or video. They haven't been as bombarded as the baby boomers, so they are still considered impressionable. The can take in and emotionally connect with many of the images they see. The "young and bombarded," however, being flashed with so many different ones on a daily basis, find that the emotional impact of the images has lessened. Sack says that the younger the person, the harder it is to convey meaning or moral value to him or her through images. "The young," says Sack, "eat images like popcorn; older adults eat them like a meal."

Sack asked thousands of people to make a collage that would show the God they believe in and the God they don't believe in. From the boomers on down, those 55 and younger, the God that they did not believe in revolved around images of discomfort. Evil, sin-induced suffering, had been edited out of their theology and their lives.

This is why we need a time of quiet reflection. We need to see those images that we avoid, the ones we edit out, because they seem to have little color, little movement, little entertainment value. In the quiet, the pain of the world begins to set in. We see how desperate this world is, how much this world needs a message of hope and healing.

This coming Wednesday, December 1, will be World AIDS Day. It is a day when people throughout the world pray for those suffering from this deadly disease. It is a day when the Church seeks to raise people's awareness of what we can do in response to the pain and suffering caused by AIDS. Not a pleasant image, but one we had better see. We don't seem to be able to stop this disease, yet many of us would like to edit AIDS right out of our lives.

Here are a few facts to ponder;
  • 39.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in 2004.
  • 17.6 million of those living with HIV/AIDS are women.
  • 4.9 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2004.
  • 3.1 million people died from AIDS in 2004.

    AIDS is a reminder of how helpless we all are. AIDS reminds us that we are totally dependent on God. This year, Episcopal Relief and Development has asked us to remember the children who are victims of this disease. 4 million children were orphaned by HIV/AIDS in 2003 alone. Nearly 1.8 million of these children live in the Anglican Province of southern Africa. Our brothers and sisters are dying. We cannot edit this unpleasant image out of our lives.

    I encourage you to remember in your prayers those who have died from this disease, those who are suffering through it now, those who are doing research for a cure, and all those who mourn. Let us remember in our prayers the children and families who are devastated by this disease. We pray that God might keep his healing hand upon all those suffering from AIDS, and that God might stir up the compassion of the Church, that we might offer to those suffering the hands of Christ.

    I also encourage you to express your faith by learning more about this disease and getting involved in the global effort to combat it. The United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS site is a good place to start.

    Advent, a time of reflection, a time for seeing the truth of the world we live in, a time to see how desperate we are for God's healing touch. This is a time to watch, a time to prepare and a time to seek images of hope. How can we respond to the tragedy of AIDS? How can we respond to the 4 million children who have lost their mom and their dad? This season is a time to ask these kinds of difficult questions, and seek God’s guidance as to how we might effectively proclaim to a hurting world the healing power of God’s love.

    We are called to be the healing hands of Christ in the world today. Let's not let our vision of the world be edited out. We do what we can do, and then put our final hope in God.

    Let us keep a holy Advent, and watch for ways that Christ will reveal himself in our homes, our church, our community, and the world.


    P.S. - This article from the New York Times gives us some insight into what is happening in Africa; Hut by Hut, AIDS Steals Life in a Southern Africa Town.
  • 1 comment:

    1. I suspect that your desire to observe a quiet and anticipatory Advent is similar to my desire to spend the month before the Days of Awe in contemplation and anticipation...though your task is harder than mine, since Rosh Hashanah just hasn't been commercialized in mainstream American culture the way that Christmas has. *g*

      Anyway. Thank you for this beautiful post.