Begin Again: Closure and Anticipation – December 2020 Lectionary Preview
November 16, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Neal Presa
A presidential impeachment. Stories and videos of children ripped from their parents’ arms at the U.S. southern border. The death of Breonna Taylor. COVID-19. The death of Ahmaud Arbery. The death of George Floyd. The shooting of Jacob Blake. The raging fires in California, Oregon, Washington State. The bomb explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Report on human rights violations in the Philippines. Students may or may not return to school this semester. US death toll due to COVID-19 surpasses 200,000. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, among others, are infected with COVID-19. Only one indictment in the case of Breonna Taylor’s death, though the charge against just one officer is unrelated to Breonna Taylor’s death. And by the time this lectionary preview is published, the U.S. presidential general election will have been decided. Maybe. Unless there are challenges after challenges.
God, help us.
These brief snippets belie our collective sense of wearied souls, worn-out hearts, a desire for deliverance, groans for justice, plaintive cries for help, bewilderment, anxiety, wrenching pain, laughter (not of joy) that is actually belting out palpable weeping because all is not well. This is not gloom and doom, but reality. I have read on social media among ministry colleagues, family, friends all over the world, and complete strangers who are all expressing a deep desire to end 2020. It seems that this year was a downpour of unrelenting upheaval to our body politic, a reckoning with the truth if we paid any attention. Let’s enter this Advent season, not with the utopia that bobbing reindeer on the front lawn nor the glittering lights seem to announce; rather let’s regard this Advent season as the Gospel narratives describe Jerusalem in the first century C.E., as did the psalmists, with soberness, circumspectly, with humble anticipation but an eagerness of God’s promises because of hearts and souls desirous for deliverance. While nicely, neatly wrapped gifts will still find their places under Christmas trees, and physically-distanced parties with guests bedecked in fashionable masks will still be held to varying degrees, this year 2020 calls for a different kind of Advent and Christmas celebrations than we have grown accustomed, or which we have taken for granted. Many of the realities underlying the political, social, racial, cultural, historical, natural, and climatological unrest that we have experienced this year have been here for a very long time; these are not new.
These previews for the December 2020 lectionary texts see a dual combination of desire of God’s people separated by centuries but longing for closure to one set of realities in hopes of anticipating what awaits in the future while still grappling with the present. As people of faith who serve communities of faith and who also serve people with no faith or whose faith has been deeply challenged in these times, we all sense a need, a desire to begin again. One of the books I’m reading is Eddie Glaude Jr.’s bestseller, Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own (New York: Crown, 2020). Glaude shared how the title of his book borrowed from a passage of the last novel of the late African American write James Baldwin who averred how to survive and find the strength to fight for justice even when things appear to be desperate and lost:
When the dream was slaughtered and all that love and labor seemed to have come to
nothing, we scattered. . . . We knew where we had been, what we had tried to do, who
had cracked, gone mad, died, or been murdered around us.
Not everything is lost. Responsibility cannot be lost, it can only be abdicated. If one
refuses abdication, one begins again.
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
|December 24 & 25
Neal D. Presa is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Presbyterian Foundation. He is an Associate Pastor and Coordinator for the Faith & Work Initiative at the Village Community Presbyterian Church (Rancho Santa Fe, CA), Visiting Professor of Practical Theology at the International Theological Seminary (West Covina, CA), Visiting Professor and Scholar at the Union Theological Seminary (Dasmariñas, Cavite, Philippines), Research Fellow of Practical and Missional Theology at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa), and a Fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians (Oak Park, IL). He previously served as Moderator of the 220th General Assembly (2012-14) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Ecumenically, he is the Co-Vice Chair of the current Third Round of Bilateral Dialogues between the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and for nearly six years he led the Caribbean and North American Area Council of both the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, serving on the executive committees of both organizations. To connect with Neal via LinkedIn, go to: linkedin.com/in/NealPresa For his publications, go to: www.NealPresa.com
 James Baldwin, Just Above My Head in Eddie Glaude Jr., Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons For Our Own (New York: Crown, 2020), p. xxix.