I have so come to value this Sunday after Thanksgiving, this first Sunday of the new church year, this Sunday that is closest to World AIDS Day. I am not a gay man. I didn’t live in LA or the Bay area in the early 80’s where the AIDS epidemic especially brutally and broadly tore away lovers and friends and family members from our embrace. I certainly knew brothers of good friends who died; and read the reports of discrimination against children and adults with HIV/AIDS, I listened to celebrity sports figures try to destigmatize the disease, I got tested for HIV/AIDS. But this worship community, the ministries of this church, this annual worship service has taught me to more fully grasp the prevalence, the sorrow and the hope of living with HIV/AIDS. There are deeply moving stories about members and friends of this congregation who have been impacted by AIDS, stories of compassionate accompaniment into death and courageous triumph in life. The birth of our Deaf ministry is part of that story. As is our ministry with the unhoused, which I will come back to in a moment.
It is so fitting that our World AIDS Day Sunday falls on the first Sunday of the new church year, the day when we begin our journey through Advent and light the first candle of the Advent wreath in celebration of the spiritual gift of hope. In the midst of darkness, first our hope is rekindled. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, the days are surely coming when you will know not just hope but healing. Injustice will be replaced by justice, evil will be replaced by righteousness. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord,” as the prophet Jeremiah says, is God’s powerful proclamation of hope.
As we gather this Sunday in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, amidst heightened fear and concern at the discovery of another mutated virus, we need those words of God: “The days are surely coming.” We need to integrate those words of promise into our being: “The days are surely coming.” Whatever worry or strife or diagnosis or ailment or old age or youthful dilemma you are struggling with today, hear God’s promise: “The days are surely coming.” Look at that candle and know: the days are surely coming.
There are several guests who participate in our drop-in program who have confided their HIV or AIDS diagnoses to us—contracting the virus mostly through intravenous drug use. Some we have watched die tragically and too young on the streets, separated from the medications that could help them manage their disease. Many tell us their status to keep everyone safe and to ask for help getting treatment—which, thanks to our partnerships with North Valley Caring Services and now El Proyecto del Barrio—we can provide. Mostly, they come and receive services and talk and tell us their struggles and their successes. I am especially thankful this Thanksgiving season that we have been able to help several of our HIV+ guests this year get not only into temporary housing but permanent housing. Into apartments and studios where they can live and get the medications that will maximize their lives.
Our unhoused neighbors living with HIV/AIDS have taught me something powerful. How out of the combination of sorrow at the disease and hope for care and a cure, there springs resilience. Resilience. The capacity to keep living fully even unhoused, even knowing the shade of disease and the shadow of death.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, are words of hope that God offers to evoke in us that same gift: resilience.
For me, that is what this World AIDS Day service does—like the leaves on the fig tree in Jesus’ parable—that signify the kingdom of God is near. It calls forth in us a resilience to continue because our eyes are focused on God’s future, without denying the weight of the past. Because of the sorrow, because of the past, our focus on the future is more clear-eyed and direct.
So today, when we hear God say: “the days are surely coming,” we can nod our head, and say, “Yes, yes they are. And we will be ready for them.” Amen.