December 11: Roses in December (Advent 3A)

“You, too, must be patient. Make your hearts firm because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5:7-10.


Today I want to speak about Advent patience and the moral courage to act on behalf of Christ and his mission of healing and hope in uncertain times.

Often I go back to a quote from the Scottish playwright James Barrie, who once penned these words:

“God has given us a memory that we may have roses in December.”

Here, in the December of our lives, where at the florist shop or the Safeway, you will find roses; these are cultivated in warmer climates, perhaps in Mexico.

In early 20th century England, the time of James Barrie, in December, roses and the summer garden with their floral scents were long far off, and a just a memory. But a vital one, that could get you through the cold of winter.

At the time of his election as the Lord Rector of Saint Andrew’s University, in 1922, he spoke on the theme of “Courage.” This was so shortly after World War I, with its tremendous loss of life, and in his role as a writer and teacher, Barrie championed the spirit of younger people, asking for more solid friendships. “God has given us a memory,” Barrie said, “that we may have roses in December.”

I’ve lived in California long enough to have experienced in our own neighborhood, a significant earthquake, the Oakland/Berkeley firestorm, and now the “Ghost Ship Warehouse” tragedy.

So many lives lost, so many souls — these are sons, daughters, mostly young people. These creative spirits define our richly diverse and vibrant culture, with beautiful memories, and now the grief of family and friends.

In many ways, we know these young people, their families, and friends. We also know those “first alert” personnel of firefighters, police, medical staff, governmental agencies, philanthropic organizations – well, these people, these citizens of ours who come to our aid in times of trouble.

Our prayers, and thanks for your efforts.

“God has given us a memory that we may have roses in December.”

So we must be patient, for that next spring season, Saint James tells us as much in today’s second reading.

It’s the kind of patience that makes for figures like John the Baptist and Jesus, so central to our memory that we anticipate the coming of a Christ, and in those seasons when we feel frozen, left out or helpless, then we earnestly look for Christ, the human face of God.

As we read into today’s gospel, we witness John the Baptist, whose figure is so prominent during Advent. In Matthew’s gospel, we learned that he is a prison, and his own ministry ended and disbanded, with some of his disciples now following Jesus.

It’s this state of affairs that reminds me that even under these circumstances, true leaders possess Dignity, courage, and moral authority.

Too often, we think of power as “force,” real moral authority comes with the power of love, understanding, and forgiveness.

We have only to think of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela for contemporary examples. In the case of Mandela, he forgave his captors at the Robben Island Prison for his 27 years of incarceration.

It’s in this “invisible kingdom of the heart,” that John and Jesus find resonance for us even in difficult and uncertain times. That “kingdom of the heart” is within you, among you, and within your grasp, says the gospel.

So, the challenge remains: we want to hand over a better world to our children and grandchildren? We cannot wrap them in Saran Wrap, and there are moments when we cannot sugarcoat the conflicts in our country and in our world.

So how do we live the moral life now? And how do we best equip the next generation to cope with the moral and ethical demands ahead? Here a possible reply.

About one year ago, I read a very profound book by Donna Hicks, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; the book is entitled “Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict.”

While Donna Hicks’ book is primarily aimed at international or global conflicts, her list of the “Ten Essential Elements of Dignity” can heal strained relationships in corporations, universities, and medical hospitals, or the battles that we face at home.

This dignity list and its demands of hers contain these critical elements: acceptance of identity, inclusion, safety, acknowledgment, recognition, fairness, trust, understanding, independence, and accountability.

When these attributes grow, Hicks maintains so does the social, political, and yes, the spiritual fabric develops — with the potential for healing and restoration. No magic dust, or the end result of a magician’s wand.

Instead, these elements and its work came into play with the formal process of resolving conflicts over apartheid in South Africa, and that country’s long-over-due need for healing and “restorative justice” at the time of its “Truth & Reconciliation Commission” in 1996.


In the introduction to Donna Hick’s book, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the chair of the TRC Commission writes:

“Dignity not only sustains but also energizes and enables. It accomplishes great things. It lifts the fallen and restores the broken. When the recognition of the good in the other is shared, it is the sense of personal Dignity given that can bring peace to situations of potential conflict.”

Archbishop Tutu concludes, “God gave each of us inherent worth and value; accept it in yourself, discover and encourage it in others, and peace may be just possible. We all long that this may become a reality in our aching world.” 

 So it’s that peace we must work for as Christians – and this Advent of waiting and its expectation for the “invisible kingdom of the heart.”

This Advent season of hope and memory: Christ’s coming in the flesh at the Incarnation, his coming into our hearts in the present, and his coming at the end of time.

Yes, this holiday season has memories for all of us – and thankfully, “God has given us a memory that we may have roses in December.”

Saint Perpetua, Lafayette, CA.


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