On the third Sunday of Advent we witness a lightening from royal purple to pink in the priestly vestments and the candles of the Advent wreath. For the Church, pink or rose is the color of joy. This theme is clear in the first two readings and the psalm: “Sing praises to the Lord … Shout aloud and sing for joy.” The savior is coming!
In Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist lights the way to prepare for the arrival of this Messiah. He reads the signs of his times and sees poverty, corruption and power disparities. He advises his followers to repair damaged relationships. Those who have two cloaks should give one to those who have none. Tax collectors should demand only that which is due and soldiers should not abuse their power. John is instructing people to act justly as individuals to address societal problems and heal the larger community. In other words, people are responsible for creating the right relationships that will be the cornerstone of God’s kingdom.
The emphasis on right relationships reminds me of a recent visit I made with a group of college students to a part of the Navajo Nation located in New Mexico. Our host for the week was a Navajo man named Larry Emerson. Larry has a farm that uses both modern and traditional practices. He invites groups to visit to learn the Navajo way, reconnect with the indigenous wisdom that dwells within everyone, and demonstrate a different model of living today.
While at the farm we worked on a rammed earth building. We mixed soil, hay, and water to create mud plaster for the wall surfaces. We collected rocks, gravel, and sand for the floor. The land provided what we needed and we used it with reverence, gratitude, and restraint so as not to destabilize hillsides and cause erosion. Roofing materials and other supplies came from Home Depot. The Navajo way is not a rejection of all things modern; balance is key.
We tried to walk softly on the earth during our time at the farm. We showered infrequently, used a composting toilet, and ate simple meals. Larry asked us to think about and feel deeply our connection to the earth. He emphasized the importance of good stewardship, not simply to ensure that creation’s resources remained available for our use, but because of the intrinsic value and dignity of all beings and things. We are, after all, created of the same stuff.
Our daily sunrise ceremony reinforced these ideas. As the sun rose, we faced east and Larry banged a ceremonial drum, chanted and danced to greet the day. We turned south, then west, and finally north, completing the circle. In this way we prayed for all that exists in the four directions and acknowledged our place within the cosmos.
At different times during the week, we entered the sacred space of the hoghan, a womblike Navajo structure. We sat for hours talking, being together, coming to know each other and ourselves more authentically. With Larry as our guide we learned and grew in profound ways.
Larry is reading the signs of the times. Along with the persistent problems identified by John the Baptist, he sees our disconnection from the natural world, marginalization of ancient wisdom, and alienation from each other leading us away from peace, justice and joy.
This man, whose relations were displaced and massacred by the early European settlers, was separated from his family when he was forced to attend a government boarding school. His long braid was cut and he was prohibited from speaking Diné, the language of his heart. Later he was “drafted” to serve in the U.S. war in Vietnam. But Larry and the Navajo survived. Today he is a voice in the mountain desert of New Mexico calling us to right relationships with the earth, the cosmos, and each other.
Larry, like John the Baptist, lights the way on a different path with a message of hope. A just and peace filled world is possible but it begins with our individual decisions and actions. We are the co-creators of the coming kingdom-community of God. What a tremendous gift. Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice!