Inoculating Against Despair

Posted on December 13, 2020 by Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations
By Kathryn Mary Lohre

The third week of Advent began for me not with the lighting of the pink candle in the Advent wreath, or the nativity children’s program at church, but in my favorite armchair at home watching history unfold. On the television, trucks full of vaccines prepared for their journey to those most in need across the country. Distribution of this lifesaving, life-changing, scientific discovery is in motion. I felt a lump in my throat. While for most of us, nothing changes – not yet – we can now prepare. Our waiting has turned to anticipation.

As ecumenical and inter-religious partners, we have a role to play in preparing for the post-pandemic future. We can encourage people to love their neighbors by getting vaccinated – when it is our turn. We can advocate for equitable distribution in the US and globally. We can publicly acknowledge that there are, understandably, varying degrees of confidence in public health claims and scientific advances. We can confess that this is a direct consequence of our racist and white supremacist history and current practices against BIPOC communities, including shameful cases of medical malpractice, abuse, and neglect. On the basis of our understanding of our sacred texts and theologies, we can inspire a future were all people, and the planet, are included in how we define and actualize health and healing.

For those of us who are Christian, it is fitting that this third week in Advent is also a time to order our hearts and minds in joyful anticipation of the Christ-child. That feels risky right now. Amid illness, death, and social inequity, we have been oriented to despair. We have become accustomed to all that is not, rather than to proclaiming all that will be. The Gospel text for this third week in Advent (John 1:6-8, 19-28) is a reminder that we, like John the Baptist, are called to prepare the way for the One who is our Joy. We do so by testifying to Christ in advance of Christ’s arrival. We tell of what will be even in the absence of what is. In other words, we reorient ourselves to rejoicing by practicing joy.

It gives me great joy to see those freezer trucks on their way to those most in need. Even more so, I rejoice in anticipation that the One who inoculates us against despair is coming.

 

Kathryn Mary Lohre serves as Assistant to the Presiding Bishop and Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations & Theological Discernment for the ELCA