Yesterday was a busy, busy day at Bethany. I’ve barely caught my breath. The big excitement was the annual fair-trade market. For twenty-four years we’ve hosted a market for vendors from all over the world to sell their wares to neighbors looking for a different way to Christmas shop. Just three hours long, the market takes hours of work from dozens of volunteers.
Before the market, we had worship. Worship this week was shaped around the O Antiphons, seven names for Christ. Traditionally they’re chanted in monastic communities in the seven days before Christmas. (We’re protestants and we get a little ahead of ourselves.)
The names are obscure things like O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King, O Emmanuel–not exactly stuff that just comes up in casual conversation. In their obscurity and strangeness, though, they get at exactly what I love about Advent–the mysterious, majestic longing.
At advent we read passages like:“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
and“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)
And with all of it, my soul cries out both yes, please! and when?! I find myself torn between feeling like it’s all just right around the corner (War is over. If you want it.) and wondering with despair how many years we’ll have to read the same things before they actually come to pass (it’s been over 2,000 at last count).
So we lived in that tension for a while during worship on Sunday. Our language jumped back and forth between past, present, and future–God promised, God is at work, God will… It’s helpful to live in that push and pull, to be reminded that we’re exiles, strangers, lost in some way. It’s comforting and discomforting at the same time. It’s very good.
But then worship was over, timed precisely to give all the tireless volunteers a chance to grab a bowl of soup before rushing downstairs to make the market happen. It was hectic and busy and a little bit of controlled chaos. Then the doors opened and folks flowed in.
The room was full of warm welcomes and happy chattering about scarves woven by widows in India and the impact of a donation to the local food bank. Folks shopped for spoons from Palestine, jewelry made by Native American neighbors in Pierce County, and goats and chickens from Heifer. Kids ran around pulling toys made not by other children, but by adults for a fair wage. Neighbors met neighbors over cookies and juice and talked about how they were trying to stay focused on what matters this Christmas.
It was loud and busy and boisterous. It couldn’t have felt any more different from our contemplative, quiet worship just an hour before. But I realized, about halfway through, watching it all, that some of our advent prayers were being answered right here and now. In the no-frills, humble basement of a little church in the north end of Tacoma, at a twenty-four year old market, a little piece of God’s kingdom was being born yet again.
We were, for a time, living a different reality. For those with eyes to see, the simple displays by vendors were a rejection of the shininess of commercials and the busyness of the mall. For those with ears to hear, the loud chatter of joy was a stark contrast to pepper-spray and shouting on Black Friday.
We were proclaiming with our feet and check books and time and words that a child has been born, unto us a child has been given, a child who to this day proclaims good news for the poor and release to the captive. In between all the worrying about name tags and baskets and bags, in the midst of all that ordinary, necessary work, a different order was, for a time, made real. We could hear the sounds of hungry people fed, and see what love looks like with flesh on.
We’ll plunge into the work of de-briefing and evaluating and planning for next year in the next few weeks. And there are always more questions than answers about how to do the most good, and what sort of fair trade is really fair, and what is sustainable, and what, in the end, really makes a difference in the world. All good questions, and many unanswerable.
This little market wasn’t the second coming, but it was for a few minutes, for me at least, a glimpse of a new earth in our midst.