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VALERIE SCHULTZ: The Advent of kindness

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Columnist Valerie Schultz

Advent begins tomorrow, the first Sunday of a new year in the church. This past year has certainly been one we want to close out. The calamitous calendar year 2020 will not actually end for another long month, but perhaps the advent of Advent can inspire us with hope for a new beginning.

In fact, for many new beginnings. As we prepare to celebrate anew the birth of Jesus, other launches are taking shape: a new administration, a new economy, a new vaccine. The new beginning I most dream of, however, is a new spirit of reconciliation among us. I am hoping this Advent, this four-week period of renewed commitment to our faith, can be the Advent of kindness.

We have gotten very mean, haven’t we? We name-call and insult each other, at least in our online postings, without a thought for whose feelings we hurt or whose reputation we degrade. Civility seems a lost art. Even worse than that, we have forgotten the second of the two great commandments that Jesus gave us, by way of the Pharisees challenging him, in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Then one of them, a scholar of the law, tested (Jesus) by asking, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?'

“He said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:35-9)

We people of faith aren’t doing so well with that one.

Loving your neighbor is not the same as liking your neighbor. It doesn’t mean you have to swim in each other’s pools or organize a block party together. It does mean that you are committed to the welfare of your neighbor, even if you don’t know your neighbor’s name. It means that your actions show that you sincerely try to serve the common good.

The old-fashioned names for this behavior — courtesy, duty, rectitude, fidelity — belie their continued importance to a healthy society. We have hipper words now for these qualities: respect, acceptance, civic-mindedness, wokeness. However we refer to these virtues, though, I believe they all converge under the umbrella of kindness.

Kindness is the moment you take to bite back harsh words. Kindness is the attempt to walk in another person’s shoes, or at least to try them on and see how they fit. Kindness can require a small sacrifice of personal comfort or space. Kindness is the opposite of a hardened heart.

In other words, kindness is a Christian imperative.

Rather than a surrender of closely held values, kindness allows us to make room for a different take. Rather than having to be right all the time, kindness considers that someone else may be just as right. Or, heaven forbid, that we have been wrong. Kindness is sometimes the opposite not of cruelty, but of pride.

We’ve had a rough year, haven’t we? We’ve hoarded goods and lost jobs and stayed home and fought over masks. Some of us have gotten sick. Some of us have died. We have unfriended friends over political platforms and closed our hearts and our borders to suffering strangers. We have gloated. We have been unkind. We have abandoned all care for the common good.

We have been un-Christian.

The Advent of kindness can restore our commitment to be Christlike.

As we light the first purple candle of the Advent wreath, I pray for the flame of the Holy Spirit to guide us to rediscover the grace of community. I pray for an Advent of kindness to burn in our hearts. I pray that my neighbors will love me as I love them, and that even if we don’t like each other very much, we can still work together to rekindle that essential love of our neighbor as ourselves. Only then can we anticipate the coming of true Christmas.

Email contributing columnist Valerie Schultz at vschultz22@gmail.com. The views expressed here are her own.

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