Reflection for Advent III, Sunday December 16, 2018
Isaiah 12:1-6; Luke 3:7-18
On Thursday of this week we’ll have 40 – 60 youth arriving at Immanuel Church Lospalos for a Christmas youth event. They’ll be coming from the eastern part of Timor-Leste for three days of fellowship, faith development and fun! This generation of Timorese youth is particularly vulnerable. They are, mostly, born after the independence struggle and are therefore somewhat estranged from the identity-shaping power of that time. They are pulled in two directions: traditional culture with its tight social fabric, and the modern world with its insistence on the autonomy of the individual. They have mediocre opportunities for secondary education and an economy with little in the way of employment possibilities.
Our theme for this year’s event is “Reading the signs of the times.” Taken from Luke 12:56, the idea is to help these young people think about what is going on in their lives and society through the lens of faith. This week I am struck by the simple question the people ask John the Baptist in response to his ministry of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Lk. 3:10ff): “What then should we do?” John’s answer is terse. He tells them to share what they have with those in need and not to use a position of any kind to exploit the neighbor’s financial vulnerabilities. What both the above readings insist we “get” is that authentic repentance has a social dimension. It’s about aligning ourselves with God’s purposes in gratitude and freedom, a theme expressed poetically in the Isaiah reading.
For our time this week, Monica has written a drama that deals with various social issues Timorese youth face: teen pregnancy, patriarchy, traditional culture, domestic violence and the future. Timorese love doing drama and I have no doubt that the play will result in conversations about the social issues they face. The point is to get youth thinking and talking about their social context and the things that impact their future and the well-being of the nation.
During the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste, the church (esp. the Catholic Church) was an astute observer of social issues and a prophetic voice for justice. Sadly, that vocation has mostly disappeared. The Catholic Church, now in a position of power, is closely linked with the government and focused mainly on liturgical routines and feast days. Meanwhile, various Protestant groups typically peddle an individualistic theology of salvation and have little interest in social issues or action. The biblical vision of salvation, however, is more expansive, inclusive and hopeful than either of those. Our aim is that our activities over these three days will embody a bit of that hope and vision as a central theme of Advent waiting.