Over the last three months I have had more people ask me to pray with them as they shared their concerns for the future. First there have major employment shifts in our local economy as a key employer downsized. Then there were the recent elections which, believe it or not, have not been the most divisive that our nation’s history. States have not threatened secession nor has one congressman caned another on the floor of the House of Representatives, but, we do live in anxious times.
This period has been described as a time of free-floating anxiety in which we look for the quick fix, the knight in shining armor, the easy answer, the silver bullet, the magic pill. In his newest book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, Thomas J. Friedman wrote that we live in an age of accelerating cross currents of technology, globalization and climate change with a measure of biodiversity thrown in for anxious seasoning. These forces are transforming the workplace, politics, ethics and our sense of community.
Thomas Friedman is not the first to suggest this. For example, Edwin Friedman in his posthumously published book A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, noted that we are in the midst of a period of gridlock characterized by an unending treadmill of doing the same thing over and over only trying to do it harder, accumulating more and more data hoping that it will show us what to do to end our seeming stagnation. What we need to do, Edwin Friedman wrote, is reframe the questions facing us and eliminate false either/or dichotomies.
The late Phyllis Tickle observed that every 500 years or so, Western civilization and the Church goes through a wholesale rummage sale when many old ideas are discarded in order to make room for the new world that is being born.
Yes, these are anxious times. But this is not the first time that people of faith experienced anxious times. Isaiah 2: 1-5, one of the readings for the first Sunday of Advent was written against the backdrop of anxious times. When it was written the northern Kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Damascus were trying to persuade the southern kingdom of Judah into an fatal alliance against the Assyrian Empire. Jerusalem was under siege and King Ahaz turned to the prophet Isaiah for advice as well as reassurance. I’m not sure how reassuring Isaiah’s words were because they did not contain a quick fix. Nor did the prophet offer a silver bullet. Rather, he told the king that no matter how bad it looked now, the day was coming when God’s reign would be seen by all people. Isaiah knew that God’s temple was not really on Mount Zion or in the holy city of Jerusalem but in the hearts of God’s people everywhere.
Armed with this vision the prophet was able to say with confidence that the day would come when “They will beat their swords into iron plows and spears into pruning tools. Nation will not take up sword agains nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.” (2:4)
“Come,” the prophet continued, “let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
We light a candle of Hope, audacious Hope in the face of anxiety, because we know that the One who came as Light into the world of darkness is still bearing His light in the hearts of all who dare, who are audacious enough, to take him seriously. Thy Kingdom will come on earth, as it is in heaven is more than a nice wish. It is a promise.