Today’s scripture readings:
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that a growing number of U.S. adults who do not already have children are saying they are unlikely ever to have kids. Young and middle-aged adults who are not already parents were asked, “Thinking about the future, how likely is it that you will have children someday?” Last month, 26% of those surveyed said they were “very likely” to have children, which was down six points from 32% who answered the same way just three years ago. The proportion of those who answered they were “not too likely” to have children grew to 21%, up five points from 16% in 2018. That was a lot of numbers; suffice it to say that more and more people today are saying they don’t plan to have children.
When asked why they don’t plan to have children, most say they just don’t want to have kids. But a significant number of those responding to the survey cited other reasons. Some pointed to medical concerns, others to financial concerns. A surprising number of people said the “state of the world” is stopping them from having children, and still others named the climate emergency as a major factor. One journalist covering the story concluded that the “spiraling costs of child care, health care and education—along with global instability, including the coronavirus pandemic and climate change—could all be contributing to a broader change in attitudes to marriage and priorities in life.”
The New York Times published a piece earlier this month describing how millions of Americans are “trapped in a pandemic funk” and “can’t shake a gloomy outlook.” One person interviewed for the piece said his sense of optimism has been dashed—by the pain of an unending pandemic, by rising prices, by nationwide bickering that stretched from school board meetings to the U.S. Capitol. More than 60% of people polled in recent opinion surveys say the country is headed in the wrong direction—and that’s a bipartisan sentiment. Over a year and a half into this pandemic, we’re still not back to normal and we might never got there. So many things just feel worse. Trash is piling up because of a shortage of garbage haulers. School bus routes are being canceled for lack of drivers. Many people who applied for rental assistance and unemployment benefits months ago continue to wait for that aid to show up in their bank accounts. All of those worries seem small compared to a global pandemic that has killed millions of people around the world and a rapidly warming climate that has intensified floods and wildfires.
Some mental health professionals say they are observing a condition called “languishing,” which is different from depression or anxiety. “Languishing is apathy, a sense of restlessness or feeling unsettled or an overall lack of interest in life or the things that typically bring joy.” It encompasses feelings of stagnation, monotony, and emptiness. It’s a sense that life is simultaneously too overwhelming and not engaging enough, a sense of feeling both tired and burned out but also restless and impatient. It hasn’t helped that just when we thought there was a light at the end of the COVID tunnel, the emergence of the Delta variant sent us back to square one. Hope these days seems elusive. The future feels uncertain.
When you think about the future, what do you feel? Do you hope that things will be better than they are right now? Or are you convinced that they will be worse? Our own sense of dread is confirmed by stories of widespread discontent and despair. We show up on the first Sunday of Advent and read these apocalyptic texts and it feels actually pretty appropriate, because we see all that’s going on around us these days and think it might really be the end of the world. Like our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations are pale imitations of the glorious festivities of years past. Like we’re just doing our best to hold it together in these last days, but it’s all just falling apart. It might seem like there is no hope. What will be will be, and there’s nothing to be done about it.
If you’ve been feeling this way, Advent is for you. In these four weeks before Christmas we hear again and again the message that hope triumphs over fear and despair. The message that what’s always been is not what always will be. The day of the Lord is coming to make all things new.
Jesus was born at a time of oppression among a community who had known decades of Roman occupation. That is the context for today’s Gospel reading. The Jewish world had been turned upside down. But the days are surely coming, Jesus promised, when the “Son of Man” will come with power and great glory. The days are surely coming, and “your redemption is drawing near.” Similarly, Jeremiah preached to a people in exile, severed from their homeland. Prophesying centuries before the time of Jesus, Jeremiah spoke to a people whose beloved Jerusalem had been destroyed, people who had been displaced from their Promised Land. But the days are surely coming, Jeremiah said, when justice and righteousness will return.
Advent holds that same promise for us today. The days are surely coming when lion will lie down with lamb, and nation shall not war against nation anymore. The days are surely coming when God’s love will be more powerful than fear and division. The days are surely coming when all people will have food to eat, shelter to sleep under, and work that is worthwhile. The days are surely coming, because God is still on the throne, and Christ will be born among us once more.
I’m not big on bumper-sticker slogans, especially ones that have something to say about faith. But maybe you’ve seen that one that says, “Don’t tell God how big your problems are. Tell your problems how big your God is.” We worship and serve a God who holds all of history, who loves this world with deep compassion, and who has the power to draw us all home once more. This is not some kind of romantic escapism or a drug that numbs us to our worries and anxiety. This is a reminder that the ways of God are broader than the mind can conceive. We show up here week after week because we believe there is more to this world and this life than meets the eye.
When we live according to the promise of Advent, the kingdom of God is near. When we live in the peace of Christ, we find peace with our neighbors and the world becomes more peaceful. When we live like we do not need to earn our salvation, then we show grace to our enemies and the world becomes more forgiving. When we live like we have all we need in God, then we share of our abundance and the world becomes more generous. When we live like death is not the last word, then we bid goodbye to fear and the world becomes more joyful.In this season of Advent, we will dwell in the promises of God. We’ll practice letting go of fear and living by faith. There is nothing in life or in death that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, who is coming soon, so we live these days of preparation for Christmas clinging to the promise of God’s presence. Our daily activities will become outward signs of the inward anticipation of what is to come. Let the card-writing, and the gift-buying, and the table-setting, and the church-going all be imbued with the promise of a brighter future secured for us by the one who comes in the dark night of winter and is our light and life. The days are surely coming and we wait with hope and anticipation. Our redemption is near and the kingdom of God is at hand.
Sarah Fielding, “Languishing Is the Mood of 2021. How to Identify It and How to Cope,” on Verywell Mind, published September 29, 2021, accessed November 24, 2021, https://www.verywellmind.com/languishing-is-the-mood-of-2021-5180999.
Jack Healy, Audra D. S. Burch and Patricia Mazzei, “Trapped in a Pandemic Funk: Millions of Americans Can’t Shake a Gloomy Outlook,” in the New York Times,published November 5, 2021, accessed November 24, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/05/us/pandemic-funk-america.html.
Annabelle Timsit, “More Americans say they’re not planning to have a child, new poll says, as U.S. birthrate declines,” in the Washington Post, published November 21, 2021, accessed November 24, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/11/21/americans-childless-pew-us-population/.
The featured image for this post, “Slow but Sure,” is from Trey Everett and is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.