Blog #97: Advent - a Time to Repent!

December 1, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
Advent is now gaining speed: It's December 1st, Advent Calendars are opening their doors, and this coming Sunday and the two subsequent ones, as well as the days between, are awaiting us, designed to help us prepare for Christmas. Last year, the Living Light Blog took the opportunity of Advent to bring you ideas and tips for environmentally friendly approaches to spend the most joyous season of all. This year, we will take inspiration from liturgy instead, offering suggestions on ways to honor the respective liturgical dimension of each of the Advent Sundays through actions that celebrate, reflect on or put us more in touch with God’s creation. One of the overarching themes of Advent is time - it is a special time, a time that is there for us to get ready. And so, true to this theme, each of the blogs will all offer ideas and tips on how we might want to spend some of this very special time in light of the Anglican Fifth Mark of Mission, "safeguarding the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth".
The big themes that appear - to me - to shape the second Sunday in Advent are repentance, justice, and faith. These three seem an odd combination perhaps, but reading the Gospel for the day, they are coming together. Mathews in 3:1-12 tells the story of John preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”, calling in particular the Pharisees to” bear fruit worthy of repentance”. John goes on, announcing full of faith that “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me”. Repentance, it seems, comes with or maybe even requires, faith in justice, faith that whomever I am asking for forgiveness will appreciate my actions. Repentance also, so it seems, requires action - beyond mere declaration. “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”.
Foto: Plastic bottles polluting the shores in Cambodia - and not just there. Global plastic pollution is something we are all part of. Advent is also a time to repent - for what we do to God's creation - and an invitation to change our ways. Foto from UNDP/Ministry of Environment Cambodia.
So let me invite you to celebrate this second week of Advent by spending some time reflecting on repentance - environmentally inspired! Last year, His Eminence, Archbishop Serafim of Zimbabwe, of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, explained in a sermon well worth reading what this means: He speaks of “ecological repentance from our ecological sins”, suggesting that this may lead to a “new way of life, to live without polluting our planet”. What is this about? Those of you who have followed the recent Climate Conference in Egypt will have read about something called Loss and Damage: The idea is that the countries whose industrial development - and use of fossil fuels - has historically contributed most to climate change should take responsibility for helping countries that did not cause it (as much) but instead feel the negative impacts. The help, mostly financial, should pave ways towards adapting to the new environments we will live in going forward. The underlying concept here is Climate Justice, and indeed many Anglican Bishops have spoken up for Climate Justice recently. Ecological repentance is mentioned here but goes beyond such political agreements. It is about personal repentance - personally acknowledging the damages that our ways of life cause and it is about our personal commitment to change what we can.
It’s a difficult topic,I find. So many of the things that shape our lifestyles - even if they are environmentally damaging - seem beyond our control. How should we think about this? Right now, here in Vienna, there is a fabulous exhibition that might help reflect on the theme of repentance. It is called Apologies and you can find it in the Jewish Museum on Dorotheengasse. It’s not a regular exhibition - but rather a 90 minute video arrangement, put together by James T. Hong, a Taiwanese-American artist. The video is a compilation of statements that acknowledge wrong-doing, in the context of atrocities, killings, mistreatment and oppression, accidental or intentional. You will see presidents and prime ministers, church leaders and military leaders, sometimes spokespeople. And as you watch them one after the other, each describing a wrongdoing - sometimes in meager and sometimes in sincere words - you can’t help but wonder: What do these apologies change?
One thing seems clear: Acknowledging wrongdoing is important. The Apologies video starts with Willy Brandt, then the chancellor of West Germany, kneeling at the Warsaw Ghetto memorial, in December 1970. He seemed to signal repentance sincerely and indeed this act of repentance changed the relationship between West Germany and Poland. Not everyone throughout the video seems as sincere, but just as often one can feel the authenticity of the statements through time and place. One thing struck me when watching: With some exceptions, most of the men (and a few women) who apologized throughout the video had no control themselves over the act for which they were asking for forgiveness for. They apologized for something that happened in the past or was committed by someone else. They took responsibility - because by organization, nationality or otherwise they were associated with those who had committed the wrongdoing. And their repentance was part of healing. Which makes me wonder: When we consider ecological repentance - are there similarities insofar in that we must take responsibility for something we are part of even if things are outside of our own control?
Either way: Let’s take time for - environmentally inspired - reflections on repentance. Let’s reflect on the wrongdoings that happen to God’s creation. Let’s pause and reflect on where we are part of these wrongdoings, directly or indirectly, and what if anything we ourselves can change. Let’s use this precious time during Advent as a way to get ready - for Christmas, yes, but also for the changes that will need to come if we want to - as the Fifth Mark of Mission says - safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
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