It is among the last words of our Scriptures. It is an Advent mantra. It is a plea pouring from my heart as this year draws to a close. More than usual this Advent and Christmas season, my prayer has been, “Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus!” It’s not just a pious thought or mindless repetition; it is a desperate appeal and an anguished request for the Messiah and the promised kingdom to break fully into our world.
Undoubtedly influenced by recent events, it is inspired by and nurtured through the Advent readings. It expresses an awareness of our world’s deep need for healing and grace and a steadfast hope in the saving action of our God.
For me and for many, watching and reading the daily news, we sense a world careening toward darkness. Pope Francis highlighted such signs of the times in his recent letter Misericordia et Misera (Mercy and Misery): we are living in a world marked by polarization, violence, exclusion and a pathology of indifference. Globally, whole peoples suffer hunger and thirst, refugees and immigrants find no welcome and children live in hunger and poverty, searching for food, shelter and peace. There are inhuman conditions in too many prisons, high levels of illiteracy, and the travesty of human trafficking. The signs Pope Francis describe paint a sombre picture, indeed.
Politically, listening with attentive ears, we hear a strident increase in rhetoric that marginalizes the already marginalized. We have let go of facts and allowed “post-truth” to rule the media and shape our thinking. If something feeds our bias, we affirm it as true. Hate and divisiveness are not only permitted, but encouraged, and people are threatened because of their religion, sexual orientation, colour of skin or ethnic origins.
My dismay and fear have grown as I consider how broken things seem, how incapable we have become of reasoned, respectful conversation and how intolerant of balanced views. I think of the next four years and my heart quails. The darkness seems pervasive right now. I’m like the cartoon character Ziggy, standing on the edge of the earth, looking up into the night sky and addressing God, “Can you please do something soon? The meek are getting creamed down here.”
And then, there, right when I need it most, Maranatha, breaks in. “Come, Lord Jesus!” The Advent plea and corresponding Christmas response are a reason for hope and a basis for courage. The astonishing, never-to-be-forgotten Good News to be celebrated is that Christmas is so much more than a soft nativity scene, gift exchanges and jolly parties, lovely as all those are. Instead, John’s prologue reveals its profound meaning: the light has come into the world and the darkness does not overcome it.
Isaiah’s stirring vision of the age of the Messiah where peace and harmony reign, truth and justice go hand in hand and the poor are judged with righteousness is, with the coming of this child, a reality. The promised Saviour is born unto us, and in his life, death and resurrection, the reign of God is established on earth. The battle, as they say, is over, and we know who wins.
But this is where Maranatha reverberates as a refrain in our hearts and a mantra as we go forward. We live in the interim, in both the “now” and the “not yet” of this reigning of God. Even as we encounter the light and know the good, we daily experience encroaching darkness and intrusive evil. Even as we know the darkness will not win, we feel helpless as it ascends to power and is given a culture in which to act.
Praying Maranatha, however, recalls for us our deepest conviction and places us within its power: the light has conquered the darkness and continues to do so. We have reason for steadfast hope and cause for courage. Jesus, the Light of the world, is present with power. Our task is to align ourselves with that power.
Come Lord Jesus, we pray and then turn to face the darkness with our small, individual lights. Every action on behalf of justice and equality pushes back the darkness. Every movement that promotes peace and tolerance brings an increase of light. Every time we protest against violence, we further the kingdom. With every response of goodness in the face of evil, Maranatha’becomes more evident.
Pope Francis, in closing the church’s Year of Mercy, warned that mercy was not to be a parenthesis in the life of the church. Now, more than ever, he stated, we need a revolution of mercy. Now more than ever, as we go forward into this night, we need people willing to stand for the light and to be the light. Hope arises and courage rests in the belief that the light came into the world and the darkness did not overcome it. Maranatha, we pray, that, through us, the light continues to come with power.
Prather, BEd, MTh, is a teacher and facilitator in the areas of faith and spirituality. She was executive director at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta., for 21 years and resides in Sherwood Park with her husband, Bob. They are blessed with four children and 10 grandchildren.