Advent 2, Year C, Worst Dressed Parish and Liberation History

Advent 2, Year C Baruch: “Take off the garment of sorrow and affliction and … put on the garment of the beauty and glory of God”

My friend, the proper Scot, always dressed well for the morning liturgy. The parish, however, was made up of those who sometimes came dressed in shorts; one of the male Eucharistic ministers came in shorts and sandals in the summer. His shorts covered by an alb. Others came in jeans and polo shirts. My friend called us the worst dressed congregation in the diocese. I was glad that people showed up no matter how well or badly they were dressed and jokingly threatened to place his accreditation on our web page. To compound the conflict, my sainted English working class grandmother, had frequently complained that the more elegantly dressed women in the parish were “putting on airs”.

Yet, what if we dressed in beauty, not to be seen, but to feed the holy? Every year for the last twelve a community gathers in Vermont to make offerings and prayers to the sacred. Some wear their most beautiful garments, made of fine woven textiles, colorful vests and serapes, brightly colored dresses,shirts and shawls. Many dress in garments of their indigenous people. The young are adorned in dresses or shirts that they have made with their own hands, Their shoulders are covered with a shawl or a scarf they have made from the wool of sheep kept by members of the community. A few of the young are covered with deerskin cloaks and a headdress of woven vines, leaves and feathers, often from wild turkeys.

Most beautiful is the radiance of God as she shines through the wet tear stained faces as we discover sometimes for the first time and sometimes over and over, that we are in the presence of such sheer unbounded beauty. All we are doing is giving a little back from the deep well of the holy that seems to never run dry.

Luke 3: 1-6. “In the fifteenth year of the Emperor Tiberius….”

Luke likes to place the life of Jesus and his contemporaries in historical time. My professor of Hebrew scripture, Harvey Guthrie, used to tell us that our God is a God who acts in history. My Rabbi friend says the major theme in Hebrew scripture is liberation. That theme carries forcefully through the Gospels.

We have witnessed those themes of liberation in our own lifetimes: Civil Rights, Women’s liberation, Gay liberation, Mandela and Tutu in South Africa, and Havel in Czechoslovakia.

IIn November of 1989 I arrived in Prague. The old city had always managed to avoid the physical ravages of war. Its old town squares and buildings, churches, palaces and bridges remained standing over a thousand years. The human toll was less evident. While there had been many signs from outside Czechoslovakia that the fervor for liberation was building: in Russia with Perestroika and Poland with the labor movement in Gdansk, The first hint of the uprising that assaulted my awareness was the music of Bob Dylan. Blaring from a record shop at the end of the bridge that led to the palace that cocooned the communist regime, Dylan’s “The Times They Are Changing” sounded confrontationally from outdoor speakers. Later, in a nightclub, a quartet sang “Blowing in the Wind’ to patrons who were largely communist party members on leave or vacation. The third was a conversation with a scientist waiting for a train to Bratislava, and as if there was too little evidence, the Berlin wall was torn down the next day.

In less than a week, hundreds of thousands of Czech and Slovak citizens peacefully assembled in the old square and walked up to the statue of St Wenceslaus the streetcars clanged their bells and the people used their keys as bells to ring in the new time of liberation.

Liberation is always preceded by suffering. Surely also suffering will follow, but it seems to me the movement of scripture is toward liberation. God is drawing from each moment opportunities for liberation. And since most systems, over time, tend toward some elements of oppression of the powerless and the poor, the faithful are called to be vigilant champions of justice and compassion.

Still, I wonder about us here when we cannot simply externalize our oppressors because they have become so much a part of us.  For when the outward oppressors do not bind us, who but our inmost oppressors keep us from rising up?

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