The Common Good

Hope and Despair

Editor's Note: New Vision Renewable Energy connects Christians with opportunities to provide renewable solar lights to people in the developing world. Their Christmas Lights Advent Devotional features daily readings and questions from prominent Christian thinkers, including Sojourners president Jim Wallis. This Day 10 of Advent devotional from Jim Wallis is reprinted and adapted with permission of New Vision Renewable Energy. You can find the full Christmas Lights Advent Devotional guide and solar light kits here: http://nvre.org/devotional-order.html

Proclaiming Jesus as light of the world is an audacious statement. It directly challenges all those idols that persistently attempt to replace God as the center of our lives and our world. In our culture, a selfishness that denies any obligation to anyone or anything beyond our own self-interest may be the greatest idol of all. It denies that demanding more and more energy at great cost to our environment and the people who live close to the land has problematic consequences. We have lost sight of the common good and the consequences have been devastating.

In many places, hope has turned into despair. Darkness seems to be crowding out light. From where will our help come from?

I’m reminded of a trip I took to New Orleans in the summer of 2010 after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig failed, spilling over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days. That July, I visited there with a delegation of national faith leaders, and a group of local residents took us out on their boats. Normally, our captain, Kevin, would have been out fishing. Instead he was showing us around Barataria Bay, showing us what the BP oil spill had done.

We gathered together with the local community for an interfaith service at First Grace United Methodist Church — a congregation formed from a black church and a white church after Hurricane Katrina. It was an appropriate beginning to our time there, because when they take everything else away from you, all you have left is faith. One young Muslim woman reminded us that the church we were praying in was once under five feet of water, and “We’re not floating around. We’re praying for hope again tonight.”

The first thing I noticed when our boat left the dock was the beauty of the place. It was easy to see how Kevin and so many others fell in love with it. It was so peaceful to hear the water lap against the boat and see wildflowers coloring the marshes. The life of a fisherman is certainly hard work, but our captain told me that the beauty they see every day makes it all worthwhile. But Kevin said he had seen nearly 25 percent of those marshes, the natural protection against hurricanes, disappear. The oil would only hasten their disappearance. “Flood waters recede and houses we have rebuilt,” he told me, “but the estuaries are not restored so quickly, if ever.”

The oil that filled the Gulf in 2010 was not a “spill,” but a spoiling of God’s creation — of wetlands and beaches; of God’s myriad creatures; of lives and livelihoods. And we heard many testimonies of this devastation during my time in Louisiana. Three words kept coming to my mind: reflection, restoration, and renewal.

The Prophet Isaiah, in chapter 61, offers a vision of a world where the brokenhearted are healed, the captives are freed, and the blind can again see. Justice will again reign and those who mourn will find comfort. In Luke, Jesus announces the fulfillment of this prophecy (4:16-21). This is one of the key messages of the Gospel and, as Christians, we cannot overestimate its world-changing implications. But Advent is a season of waiting, and we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Isaiah reminds us that the world is not as God intends it to be. There are still too many people suffering. Injustice is rampant. But this is not the final chapter of the story. We serve a God who created the Earth, called light into existence, and tasked us all with joining in the work of caring for Creation and transforming the world. Our wasteful habits often cast darkness on God’s land, like the oil spilled in the Gulf. This advent season, I’m reminded that in the face of darkness — like the cloud of black oil that leaked into the Gulf — we can look to the light of Christ, who shows us the way of reflection, restoration, and renewal.

As we patiently anticipate the light of Christ entering anew this Advent season, we must cling steadfastly to the hope we profess. For our help comes from the Lord, who ensures that hope ultimately triumphs over despair, even in a world where selfishness seems to have momentarily displaced the common good. I hope you’ll join me in sharing the light.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His latest book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE . Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock

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