Advent Happens Every Day
By DAN R. STIVER
“Resurrection happens every day.” This is a saying by Juergen Moltmann, one of my favorite theologians in his book, The Way of Jesus Christ. It means that the power and dynamics of the Resurrection are still present, not just long ago but continue to this day. Jesus came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has drawn near, or in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., the power and dynamics of the beloved community have drawn near. The word “power,” though, may be misleading in that it comes not in a controlling, dominating way but in the way Jesus came in that first Advent, to those with eyes to see and ears to hear, in humble, peacemaking ways, often hidden and missed. It comes to a world still broken, still flawed despite its goodness, as the Apostle Paul puts it, groaning like a woman in labor. Yet it happens.
At this time of year, the refrain, “Advent happens every day,” has been running through my mind. In the same way, it often happens subtly, hidden, and easily missed. And it happens to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Recently in a couple of Honors classes at Hardin-Simmons University, we went over the story of Grace Watanabe (Kimura), a story that had been largely hidden since the 1940s. A student doing research in the archives found a student essay that had been awarded first prize by the faculty for the spring commencement of 1945. It was to a Japanese female student. Let that sink in for a moment: months before Hiroshima in the waning days of World War II. The essay, “How Can I Help Improve Race Relations,” apart from a few words, could virtually have been written today. Her family had been ordered to an internment camp. Her father, the Rev. Paul Watanabe, a Baptist pastor in California and a Hardin-Simmons University graduate in the 1920s, was terminally ill and so could not go and soon died, but before he died he penned a letter to friends at HSU asking for help.
Somehow the friends were able to help arrange for Grace and her sister Jessie to come to Abilene, where they finished high school at Abilene High, then went to HSU, where Grace not only won first prize for the essay but was valedictorian the next year. She and her sister later in gratitude gave reparation money that they received to HSU. I was struck by the way that this story, long hidden, was an example of “Advent happening every day.” This remarkable and resilient young woman, with her family and sisters, was part of the beloved community. As a faculty member, I appreciated that the faculty and administration could approve giving this prize to a Japanese student at that time. She both received, and she gave. I’m not sure how many even knew of the prize at that time in the wider Abilene community. It even disappeared from view at HSU. Recently her story, however, has been re-told, hopefully on a regular basis. She was contacted in recent years and still showed a delightful spirit, and just recently passed away. It is a story of Advent for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
While reviewing that story, I ran across a recent story about a man, Bob Fletcher, who when many of his Japanese neighbors were sent to internment camps, quit his job and managed their farms. He kept them going and paid their mortgages and taxes. He only took half of the profits, giving the rest and the farms to their rightful owners after the war. He was vilified and shot at. It is not a well-known story, largely hidden from view—except for those farm families! And I was struck again: Advent happens every day, when we have eyes to see and hears to hear. He represented the power of the beloved community erupting yet again in this broken world.
The thing is, Advent happens as in these cases, as in the first case, not only to those with eyes to see and ears to hear, but to those with hands and feet to respond and to participate. Advent happens just as in the original, when there was not only a baby but a mother and a father and shepherds and wise men, all participating in and being catalysts for the coming beloved community. Advent is not just the unfurling of the past; Advent is the inbreaking of the future, novel, surprising, peaceable, often hidden, beloved community, as occurred with Jesus. With eyes to see, ears to hear, and hands and feet to do, Advent happens every day.
Dan Stiver is a part-time professor of theology at Logsdon Seminary