The Common Good

Light in the Midst of the Darkest Night

Sometimes, a friend can send just the right email at just the right time. A message that is meant for a particular time and to a particular group of people can contain deep truths that transcend the moment. I received the following message a few weeks ago from a dear friend and amazing Christian leader. We had just spent several days together at a retreat for faith leaders talking about the church, Christian character, and our country. While we talked about the things that concerned us, we were also able to talk about the trends that gave us hope.

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On December 21, the tilt in the axis of the earth will create the longest night of the year. In Washington, D.C., the day will last only 9 hours and 26 minutes. And, it is in exactly this season of darkness that we celebrate the light. It is exactly when things are the hardest that we are told by the scriptures to have joy. We do this because we recognize that history is not ultimately in our hands. The rising and the setting of the sun and the changing of the seasons are not dependent upon us. We acknowledge at this time of year that God came to be with us, God's creation -- to teach us, guide us, and to work with us and through us.

I share this email with you because it was a reminder that I needed during some of the shortest days and longest nights of the year. I hope you will be blessed too.

I am regularly encouraged about the possibility of change by reflecting upon history. If we were living in 1850, we would be living in a country in which a third of all Southern white families owned slaves. It would have seemed that slavery was a permanent fixture in our nation. Twelve American presidents owned slaves; the executive branch of government was in slaveholders' hands for 50 of its first 64 years. A slave owner, John Marshall, was chief justice of the Supreme Court for more than three decades and was succeeded by another one, Roger Taney, who held office until 1864. Almost every Speaker of the House was a slave owner, as was every President Pro Tem of the Senate. Virtually every single piece of legislation passed by Congress in the 1850s was pro-slavery. And the pro-slavery movement was bolstered by politicians such as James Henry Hammond of South Carolina, who announced from the floor of the House that slavery was "the greatest of all blessings which a kind Providence has bestowed upon our glorious region." This echoed the preaching that rang from American pulpits in both the North and South as well as a multitude of pro-slavery "biblically based" tracts and books. Even the great Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary was strongly anti-abolition on 'biblical' grounds.

This being the Advent season, I meditated again upon the Message version of Romans 8:22-25: "All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us; it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us from within. We're also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, anymore than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy."

May you be enlarged and in no way discouraged in your waiting for the coming of Christ and his Kingdom this Advent season.

God's Peace to You, Rich Nathan

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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