Monday, January 4, 2010

The Work of Advent

John said: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths . . . The winding roads shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth." Luke 3:1-6

According to an Associated Press article (Sept 17, 2009), a Muslim congregation in Reston, Virginia had outgrown its facilities and was looking for a place to meet for evening prayers during Islam's holy month of Ramadan. When a Jewish synagogue heard that the Muslim congregation was looking for space, they offered the use of their hall.

The synagogue was not just tolerant but welcoming to its Muslim neighbors. Members of the mosque greeted their Jewish neighbors with the Hebrew greeting Shalom, and the synagogue community responded with its Arabic equivalent Salaam. The rabbi spoke at the Islamic community's Friday afternoon prayers; the imam spoke at Friday evening Shabbat services.

The relationship has grown between the two congregations. The Muslim community has been invited to continue holding their Friday prayers at the synagogue. The rabbi and imam are planning a trip together to the Middle East.

The imam, who grew up in the Sudan, said that he had never met a Jew until he moved to the U.S. in his 20s nor had he ever imagined having a close relationship with a rabbi. His congregation's experience with the synagogue had shattered stereotypes. One member of the Muslim congregation said, "I will not look at the [Jewish people] the same."

The rabbi said the relationship works both ways. "You really only get to know someone when you invite them into your home . . . you learn to recognize their faces. You learn the names of their children."

There are so many wastelands and barren places into which we can bring the life of God, so many crooked roads that we can transform into highways through our charity and forgiveness, our sense of humility and gratitude.

The work of Advent is to bring light to the dark chasms of ignorance, to fill in the valleys of poverty and want, to make low the mountains of injustice, to straighten roads made impassable because of mistrust and hatred.

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