Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why Wait?

It's early Advent and thoughts of waiting, watching, anticipation, longing and preparation are very present with me. In the meantime, I'm here in Logan Airport, Boston, listening to strains of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" that waft through the air. Keeping in touch with the spiritual richness of this season can be challenging to say the least. However, there are these moments when the themes of Advent surface with real clarity.

I had such a moment last week while visiting Cuba with a delegation of leaders from the National Council of Churches. We were the guests of the Cuban Council of Churches and we were there primarily to engage in conversation with our Cuban sisters and brothers around issues of mutual concern. The relationship between the two Councils and many of the churches that comprise each body has a long and lively history. Visits like this, and the visit of a small Cuban delegation to the NCC General Assembly last year, have helped to keep the relationships vital.

There was a moment in our conversations when it was pointed out that the U.S. embargo against Cuba has been in place for about 50 years. In so many ways this embargo/blockade has caused the Cuban people to suffer –– a fact that becomes apparent to anyone who visits. Yet, our government has seen fit to keep it in place in the hope that its negative impact will cause the Cuban people to overthrow their government. The fact that this has been going on for a long time –– almost 50 years –– gave me pause to wonder. It was a moment indeed, a revelatory moment.

Many U.S. citizens are aware of the embargo and share the view that this is an unnecessary and failed policy that serves as a barrier to economic development in Cuba, leading to impoverishment and other economic hardship. The embargo harms constructive people-to-people relationships between Cubans and North Americans, many of whom are Cuban Americans. So, we wait and we hope for the day that it ends.

On the other side, the Cubans seem quite resolved to wait for the day when the embargo is ended by the United States. Their waiting has been long. Many of them have never known a time when people and commerce moved freely between the two countries. So they can only imagine what it would be like. But those I spoke with on this recent trip could only imagine that lifting the embargo would certainly make their lives better. What we see in their waiting is hope yearning for a change that looks like it will never come.

In that revelatory moment, the 50-year wait for the blockade of Cuba to end, a wait shared by people the world over, deepened my awareness of the meaning of the Advent season. Waiting and watching, hoping and yearning are central to Advent, and are not limited to the experience of the people of ancient Israel, who waited for the coming of God’s anointed, the Messiah. Like them, we also wait.

No, we’re not waiting for the Messiah to come. Jesus has come and gone. We celebrate his advent here and yes, we await his return. In the meantime, we also wait to see changes in our world, even as changes like the lifting of the Cuban embargo seem improbable or unlikely. In that moment, I realized again that there are yet realities for which we wait, and Advent is a reminder that we cannot give up or give in simply because change has not yet come.

Like people of faith through the ages, we wait, because we trust the promises of God. Like them, we await the coming of a new day of peace and reconciliation among the nations and people of earth. We await the breaking down of barriers and blockades and all manner of suffering that we as humans cause.

However, our waiting is not passive or idle. It is active and filled with expectation. It presses forward with the assertion that change is coming, as it challenges the status quo. It embraces preparedness and making a way for change to come. Our waiting is full of hope and expectation, based on our knowing that long ago people waited for God’s anointed to appear. To their surprise, in a little out of the way town, a poor Jewish couple gave birth to a child and named him Jesus. In Him God’s promise was accomplished once. We wait now expecting that in the fullness of time, this will happen again.

Geoffrey Black presents an NCC gift to Dagoberto Rodriguez, Cuban Minister of External Affairs.

The NCC delegation at the Latin American Medical School, Havana, Cuba.

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