A year ago on the 6th of December I was in the Southern Czech town of Valašské Klobouky to help celebrate the feast day of St. Nicolas or Mikuláš. I’ve written about it before on this blog here. Valašské Klobouky is about a half hour from the Slovak border and the go-to place for everything Mikuláš. With it’s saint and angels and realistic cow-bell adorned devils it is quite the spectacle. The naughty or nice behaviors of the children are punished or rewarded accordingly. If you were nice the past year, you got sweets, if you were naughty the devils would stuff you in their bags and drag you to hell. No coal in your stocking, no passing “Go” and collecting 100 dollars, no…it is straight to hell for you. The Czechs don’t mess around. So I guess the moral of the story, if there is one, is to be nice. Dire consequences would be the alternative. (The Dutch have a similar Christmas celebration called “Black Peter.” There is one difference though if you were naughty during the last year, you would be put into a sack and sent to Spain. I’m guessing Spain is the Dutch the equivalent of going “to hell.”) Our version is to force children to sit on the lap of an old man in a red suit and long white beard and fess up whether they were naughty or nice broadcasting it in real time to an entire department store. Then pictures must be taken to immortalize this confession. These photos reappear on Facebook on Throw-Back-Thursdays to once again bring back that traumatic experience again and again and again.
We are knee deep in the first weeks of the liturgical year and much has happened to stretch our feelings of joy and anticipation. It has become more difficult. From the decisions of two grand juries not to indict police officers who may have behaved badly, their actions costing the lives of human beings to the apparent recent suicide of a 12 year old because he couldn’t stand the bullying anymore, these days have been heavy with grief and anger. Advent needs to be a time of anticipation of good things down the road, not the feelings of frustration and helplessness that seems to hang over this second Sunday in Advent. As the prophet Isaiah says in the first reading for this Sunday:
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley. (Is 40)
The going should be easy-peasy and yet today we look at the mountain of racism and bigotry and the valleys of hate and it’s a wonder how we can ever move forward. According to Isaiah, the coming of the Messiah will make walking forward easier. The answer is found later on. How? We will read in John that the bulldozer that will level mountains and fill in valleys is the power of love. On love’s broad shoulders we can ride high above the naysayers of Fox and the rioters and the hate-filled individuals who twist scripture to fit their own narrow agenda. These people are the modern mountains and valleys and “rugged lands.” Yet from the shoulders of love we can begin to see what the power of love can do. What I can do. If you hang around listening to negativity long enough, you become negative. If you blame the nation’s or the world’s ills on others, you’ve lost the power of the personal mirror we all have. Love is powerful. Love isn’t an emotion, it is living. It’s not a command, but an invitation we can foolishly turn down. It is not based on fear but on an act of free fearless will. Look around at the “mountains” and the “valleys” and the “rugged and rough country” in your life and ask, how can I love more today? How can I walk on level mountains and filled-in valleys so that my life’s journey is transformative? What can I do today? That is the true power in our own hands. Want change? Asking these questions is a pretty good way to start. The alternative, of course, is a journey in the sack the devils carry around, and that’s just naughty.
and so it goes…