By Dr. Allyson Carr, Associate Secretary, Justice Ministries

In the midst of intense flooding, an ongoing pandemic, pressing calls for renewed efforts on reconciliation in the wake of ongoing confirmation of thousands of unmarked graves at former Residential School sites, growing calls for racial justice, and a global climate crisis we are brought, collectively, into Advent.

That is quite an opening sentence, but it’s been quite a year. And even that over-long sentence can’t pack in all the other ongoing conflicts and crises—or the personal losses, hopes, and fears—each of us are carrying into this Christmas season. With so many urgent, pressing justice issues, it can be hard to know what to do; how to help, what action to take. Each one of these issues requires right action long overdue.

Yet while I want to honour and uphold the urgency of each of these issues, I am also hearing that part of what is so urgently needed… is slowing down and listening. We say that so much of justice work is actually relationship work, and it is true. But building or even maintaining relationships takes time. It also takes trust and work to repair damage before trust can really begin to happen—and even if we only look at the opening sentence of this reflection, there is plenty of damage that needs repairing.

…the thing I keep coming back to that is so needed for the justice work ahead for the church—ahead for us all—is listening. We need to listen to each other, and we especially need to centre, lift up, and listen to those among us with lived experience of the justice issues we are working to address: issues like racism, colonialism and intergenerational trauma, misogyny, and homophobia or transphobia.

Historically, Advent was seen as a time of preparation similar to Lent, except that in the lead up to Christmas we are preparing for a birth rather than a death and resurrection. This Advent, I have been trying to focus not only on the hope and joy and love that are the traditional themes, but on preparing myself for what will be much needed work in the coming year. And the thing I keep coming back to that is so needed for the justice work ahead for the church—ahead for us all—is listening. We need to listen to each other, and we especially need to centre, lift up, and listen to those among us with lived experience of the justice issues we are working to address: issues like racism, colonialism and intergenerational trauma, misogyny, and homophobia or transphobia. What is needed is deep and deeply respectful listening, with humility and the acknowledgement that the church, like society, is so incredibly and beautifully and complexly varied but flawed and still somehow, in the midst of everything, trying to live out its call.

We hear in Living Faith that the church “is in constant need of reform because of the failure and sin which mark its life in every age” (7.1.6). These words fill me with hope. They are a reminder to listen and to acknowledge where we have gone wrong. They are a reminder that we must address those wrongs and redress the harm they created. Such is the nature of reformation. Faced with the issues we have seen this year that accompany us into the new year, I can imagine few more vital calls to heed. So, as we prepare again to celebrate the birth of God-among-us, I hope we can also prepare to do the work that God calls us to—remembering we celebrate at Christmas the birth of a God willing to be born as a baby to a young mother no one had room for, under an occupying, colonizing political power who would soon try to hunt him down. In celebrating Jesus’ incredible birth under such unjust circumstances, may we also listen to and learn from the voices among us who can help us, collectively, understand what we need to do in this age to reform.