Kate Lawler and David Wunsch, who write here about Advent in Buenos Aires, are ELCA regional representatives in South America. To support them or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.
Even though this is our seventh Advent season in Argentina, we are still struck by how different it feels from the Advent experiences we grew up with. Global mission service is constantly dislodging our preconceived notions and unsettling us with new questions. In South America, Advent comes to us in the ever longer, ever warmer days that announce that spring is turning into summer. We are challenged to seek the meaning of Advent in symbols and sensations that are not the ones we are used to. This year on the second Sunday of Advent we were called to reinterpret the symbols of bread and water during a morning of baptisms and First Communions (including our Matthew!) at our congregation here in Buenos Aires. Among those receiving these sacraments were members of our community who live in an extremely marginalized neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Families in this community literally subsist on the refuse of the city by recycling cardboard and retrieving items from a nearby landfill.
As I witnessed the baptism and First Communion of young people who were born into a state of exclusion, the symbols of water and bread took on the meanings that these elements have in the lives of those who do not have access to clean drinking water and whose daily bread is not a certainty. As a listened to the giggles provoked by baptismal water trickling down faces and saw the joyful anticipation of that first holy bread, I was unsettled by the questions that stirred within me. What commitment are we making when we baptize into the Christian community members who do not have access to clean drinking water? What do the words “the Body of Christ given for you” mean when we speak them to a person who may not eat anything else that day?
These are among the questions that accompany us during this Advent season. While we are far from having the answers, the image that guides our search is a baby in a manger. While our Advent journey in South America is filled with unsettling questions and symbols that call for constant reinterpretation, we give thanks for the new ways that they point us to the Christ child. Whether you await Christ’s arrival during the long days of summer or the long nights of winter, we pray that you will join us in asking how together our Christian community can help fulfill Christ’s promise of cleansing water, wholesome bread and new life for all of humanity.
With Advent hope,
Kate Lawler and David Wunsch