Something has been nagging at me for a long while: Where has the aspiration for growing in character run off to? Why is there no public conversation about virtue or qualities of spiritual maturity defined by things like honor, integrity, loyalty, fidelity, truth, compassionate regard, courage, wisdom and humility? Why do these things sound so uncool and déclassé? Am I alone in feeling our culture has been stripped of this dialogue, this concern for developing ever-greater human decency and civility?
For a dozen years, I broadcast radio spots on behalf of Christ Church that reached more than a million people at a time on the subject of values, civility and the common good; this seemed an important and relevant intervention for the church to advance. Now this project appears really prescient in anticipating our current cultural decrepitude. We were ahead of our time I suppose, or maybe, a bit too late. It was but a lone voice in the wilderness, after all.
“Lone voice in the wilderness” comes from biblical sources in reference to John the Baptist. That’s how he presented in his epic historical moment—a time defined by corrupt political and religious cultures, fractious, violent and indifferent to the welfare of those deemed outside the bounds of one’s tribe. Sound familiar?
Along with his searing critique of contemporaneous culture, his lone voice anticipated the arrival of another voice that would outstrip his own. And so Jesus came on the scene. But as you well know, the change he eventually wrought didn’t happen overnight. The darkness had long been advancing, and it would take many years—decades, centuries—for the pinprick of light to grow into a radiant brilliance.
The maddening thing is that we’ve known about this bright light for two millennia now and still we strain to the breaking point to hang on the wisdom it reveals. It’s a great mystery as to why this is, but it seems that every generation must contend with its time-sensitive version of an enveloping darkness.
It appears the stakes for wisdom and decency have been doubled, maybe tripled, this year in our season of Advent. I can’t remember a December quite like it at any point in my adult life. Our worship, our scripture, our fellowship, our ministry, our prayer has never seemed more relevant, our reliance on truth and virtue more purposeful, and the Advent refrain, “come quickly Lord Jesus,” more dynamically appropriate.