Advent is a season of waiting in anticipation for the coming of Christ. Back in the day, Gabriel visited Mary after 400 years of deafening divine silence and communal subjugation to a narcissist Roman savior-wanna-be, announcing that God would arrive on the scene. I imagine some had despaired of hope. Some had disappointedly marked God tardy. Some were trying to fix their problems themselves with a rag-tag mutiny. Others nursed a quiet, persistent, longing.
True to His word, God made a special appearance, in the most unexpected form, in the least desirable place, through the most unlikely conduit. God has a way of doing that. Intervening in what feels like the 11th hour. Collaborating with the secular instead of the religiously pious. Conjuring up a redemptive scheme that is entirely counter-intuitive to human understanding.
Today might as well have been Christmas morning for the Cherin Marie family and those who have been sharing their 3+ year wait to experience Immanuel as God with them. Lord knows, they haven’t received His tangible presence or His tender compassion from their church leaders, their community of faith, their Bishop or their denomination, the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).The shepherds God assigned to them, to image His care have been derelict of duty. Getting their steps in taking the most distant route around their wounded, hyper focused on self-protecting their personal and institutional reputations, appeals for help from innocent assault victims having fallen on deaf ears.
Enter, the honorable Judge John Barsanti. 1,315 days after the complaint entered the public accountability system, he read the verdict. Mark Rivera is guilty of multiple Class X felonies for the criminal sexual assault of a child under the age of 13. Sentence forthcoming—somewhere between 15 and 120+ years in prison. God weighed in at the Kane County courthouse yesterday in the public naming of what is true, in the clearly defined distinction of who is the victim and who is the perpetrator, and in the validation of retributive punishment for the evil that has been committed.
On the home page of the ACNA website, a list of priorities and initiatives in large, bold, capital letters reads,
SERVING THE MARGINALIZED.
God’s heart for the vulnerable and under resourced moves us to work for justice, mercy and reconciliation.
Shouldn’t that have applied to the pre-pubescent girl who was repeatedly sexually abused by their own lay minister? And what about her family? And the slew of other casualties left in the wake of Mark’s service? And how about the laundry list of victims preyed upon by bad actors manning their pulpits and warming their pews?
God have mercy on your church. Cleanse the temple for the sake of your glory.
And God, companion your traumatized children with vigilant tender care.
This day, this verdict, this justice is not the end of their harrowing journey.
The tragic reality is that every day, under the sun, they will walk with a limp.
Steady them, God, with your strong arm so they can finish the race you have intended for them to run.
Companion them on their journey with your empathy.
Remind them that you, too, have been betrayed, assaulted, backed into a corner, stark naked and exploited.
You, too, have been the victim of injustice, experiencing public humiliation, slander, rejection by the prevailing religious system and abandonment by your trusted community.
As counterintuitively to our human comprehension as your first incarnation was, your plan to redeem all that is broken and evil was equally mysterious.
You volunteered to be a victim so we would know that we have an advocate who understands.
Surely, you have borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. (Isaiah 53)
You agreed to be declared guilty on behalf of our collective evil and receive God’s punishment in our place.
Indeed,the chastisement of our peace was upon you. And God, the Father, laid on you the judgment for our iniquity. (Isaiah 53)
We cannot fathom what you have done and what you are doing from beginning to end, but this we know. In your first incarnation, you served the marginalized. You demonstrated God’s heart for the vulnerable and the under resourced. And in your second appearing, you will reconcile all things according to your perfect justice and mercy.
That is the source our hope, joy, and peace this and every Christmas.
(For more information on this story of abuse, see my earlier post.)