Musing about Impeachment in Advent

Rather than essaying a sustained opinion-piece today, I’m going to muse about impeachment in the “light” of Advent—or, maybe, the darkness of Advent.

I’m not going to weigh in directly on the matter, at least not in the way that some Christians on the Right have done; they have declared that the President is God’s anointed and that impeachment is Satan-driven. I rebuke this theological ilk, those court prophets (or is that profits?) who believe themselves to be the Children of Light and persons such as myself are Children of Darkness.

Here, I’m going to muse about the darkness of this moment in the nation’s history, using the season of Advent as my interpretive lens.

For Christians, Advent can be a season of reflection, discernment, and even judgment as we reflect on how prepared we are—we meaning congregations, we meaning families, we meaning also “me”—to receive the Christ into our lives, and the required changes in character and behavior. Advent is a season of darkness in contrast to Christmas light and serves as a reminder that while darkness can never overcome light, one or one’s people might walk in darkness a long time before the light dawns.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” reads Isaiah 9:2. But how long had the people been walking in darkness before seeing light, and was Isaiah seeing the dawning light or was he given a vision of the light that would be coming… someday? Regardless, the darkness of exile for the Hebrew people lasted a long time and was not overcome by light in a day, a year, or even a generation—and certainly not within the span of an American election cycle. Many people I read and to whom I speak are not optimistic about the near future. Neither am I. But hope is different. Hope requires courage and resilience.

When one is in counseling and dealing with a perceived threat or fear, a counselor will often ask, “Have you faced anything like this previously?” If the answer is, “Yes,” then the counselee has evidence that they are stronger than they think. Has the American people been through troubling times in relatively recent history? (Surely, some of our nation has seen hardly anything but troubling times.) Of course, history does not repeat itself precisely, but some of the rancor today feels familiar.

“This is the early evening edition of the news.
The recent fight in the House of Representatives was over the open housing
section of the Civil Rights Bill.
Brought traditional enemies together but it left the defenders of the
measure without the votes of their strongest supporters.
President Johnson originally proposed an outright ban covering discrimination
by everyone for every type of housing but it had no chance from the start
and everyone in Congress knew it.”

These are the opening lines of a newscast played as Simon and Garfunkel sang “Silent Night” (listen to the full song, “Silent Night/7 O’clock News” here, or go to the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album from 1966). The contrast between “Silent Night” and the year’s events can still haunt. The dearth of moral and ethical leadership in Congress. Racism in Congress and infecting whole cities of white Americans. The Vietnam War escalating. Protesters being targeted by the government and conservative media as un-American. On the one hand, one can say, “Darn, blindness has descended again.” Or one might say, “We survived some very difficult periods previously, and we can again.”

Irony. Irony is a term that applies to an action that results in the opposite of the actor’s intent, e.g., a peace overture that sparks a war. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us of the ironies of American history and to be mindful, as Abraham Lincoln was, that God has God’s own purposes that do not align with partisan positions. American history does not move straightforwardly in any direction, and intent does not alone determine outcome. There are purposes at work in this time before dawn that are larger than either party or both parties together. God has God’s own purposes.

I have no clue what the words “true” and “truth” mean anymore. I used to think discovering “truth” was like taking a level and a plumb line to a wall: to be true meant to accurate, level, sound, useful. A true and plumb wall will not tip over because of gravity. It is sound to build upon that wall. Then I encountered post-modern thinking and all so-called truth being true only from a point of view (I often wonder about the limits of “from a point of view” when I contemplate climate change, or a speeding car coming at me that will kill me if I don’t move or if I am unable to allow the atoms of the car to pass through me).

But even post-modern thought allows the possibility of overlapping perspectives, common ground discovered in conversation and argument. However, as evidenced in the impeachment hearings, truth seems to mean a self-chosen, exclusive, warring narrative that one uses as a Procrustean bed to chop off any “fact” or claim, or demonize any opponent, that does not fit the narrative. I would have thought such narratives are houses founded on sinking sand and, in the long run, they are. But today, these narratives rule. Even if one narrative is mostly true and the other is mostly false, truth will not necessarily win out. Today.

Pundits, partisans, and prophets want to usher in judgment day. Who will be judged, and for what? There is no overlap between narratives regarding who the real person or persons on trial are. Each side, trusting in their own righteousness and unwilling (understandably so) to show the slightest vulnerability to the other side, believes that judgment day will vindicate them. But let’s not leave out the fullness of what judgment day means. During Advent, churches using the lectionary hear some of the toughest judgment scriptures the Bible can offer. It might be well to remember that judgment day in the Hebrew Bible is a terrible day (read Joel) and that judgment begins in one’s own house.

If religious people have nothing different to say about any political matter, from rhetoric to narratives to policy to practices, then either religion or politics has been co-opted by the other, or each by the other. And at least one of these ways of walking is superfluous.

While Christmas comes on the calendar in just a few days, it may remain Advent in America for a long time to come. How will our religious communities help people walk in darkness for an unknown length of time, even as we cling to hope?