In our weekly Sunday liturgy at Grace Toronto church, we pray for our church and the city. It is one of my favorite parts of the service because it helps me to remember, not just the great news of the gospel, but the great responsibility of place. To live anywhere is to answer the call to be a neighbor. And being a neighbor means carrying the burdens of others.
Neighborliness is one word to describe the holy act of the Incarnation: God clothed himself with flesh and pitched his tent among us. This Advent, I am contemplating that mystery—and also finding myself deeply burdened for the world. When it came time for me, this past Sunday, to lead the weekly prayer for the church and the city. I couldn’t help but bring a prayer of lament. It seemed fitting, and perhaps it gives words to some of your sorrow and hope.
I offer it as an Advent meditation.
Thank you for this holy season of Advent—a season for contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation. Your ways are not our ways. Your thoughts are not our thoughts. Who has ever known your mind? Who has ever dared to be your counselor? We cannot begin to grasp what it means that you, in your holiness, would choose to be clothed with the liability of human flesh, that you would send your Son Christ into a world where he would not be welcomed. He is the Suffering Servant of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke, the one whose first and final advents advance the cause of justice and announce the hope of salvation.
We need that justice and salvation today as much as Ancient Israel, God. We need Jesus to return and to bring with him your kingdom of peace.
We have watched Aleppo fall and little children suffer. Lord, have mercy.
Nationalism is taking hold around the world. Lord, have mercy.
There is political instability, racial injustice, great economic disparity. Lord, have mercy.
In Toronto, there are people living on the streets as the temperatures fall, and even the wealthy suffer evil like domestic violence, substance abuse, family breakdown and spiritual alienation. Lord, have mercy.
How long, O Lord? This has always been the faithful cry of your people, our song of lament in the face of suffering. How long, O Lord, until you put this world fully and finally to rights? Until you judge evil and deliver the oppressed? How long until your Son comes again to put the enemies of sin and disease and death under his feet?
I pray for those in our congregation for whom 2016 has been a year of suffering. They have lost jobs. They have lost loved ones. They have prayed and seem only to have had silence in response. They wonder, God, where you are and whether you care. They doubt that your goodness and power are real. Even 2017 is full of unanswered questions, and there is fear in meeting the uncertainties ahead. In this final week of Advent, help all of us to abide in hope: hope which is a confident expectation in you.
Israel was taught to pray:
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
Shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
Make this true of us: may our tears of lament plant seeds of greater hope and faith. May we begin to lay down, with greater willingness, our need for control. May we begin to embrace, with greater humility, your wisdom. Let mystery be cause for worship.
Finally, God, bring your people home with shouts of joy. We look forward to the next Advent of Jesus, when he will return and gather us to himself in the city of God, when you will declare, “The dwelling place of God is with humanity.” Suffering will be ended. Tears will be dried. Death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. Bring us to the day when the former things have passed away and you make all things new.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come.