Unsettling Advent 2023, Day 18
“Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great: He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16)
Every year, Advent invites us to enter into the Christmas story anew — to relive the birthing of Emmanuel into a world desperate for God’s saving presence. This year brings its own context with vast slaughter and carnage in the land of Jesus’s birth: nearly 20,000 dead, the vast majority of whom are women and children; nearly 2 million fleeing for their lives; entire cities left in rubble; people living in terror; hostages, political prisoners, and their loved ones fearing the worst.
What does it mean to enter the Christmas story anew in these moments, as so many are desperate for God’s saving presence? To wrestle with this question is to live into this sacred season.
This Advent, I find myself overwhelmed with grief and anger. Bearing witness to such death, destruction, and devastation would be unbearable if it weren’t for the fact that so many are forced to bear it. From a distance, I offer lament for those forced to flee their homes, for those whose loved ones lie beneath rubble, and for those who are reliving deep generational trauma. I join with those pleading and desperately demanding the U.S. government end all political and financial support of such atrocities. I commiserate with those feeling helpless and hopeless — longing for the God of liberation to show up once more.
I admit it’s tempting to look away from such painful realities. To go about my comfortable, privileged life and ignore the devastation of bearing witness to such inhumanity. I’m also tempted to succumb to feelings of helpless and hopelessness. In honesty, I sometimes indulge these privileges. But God and humanity keep calling me back. To ignore what is happening in the land of Jesus’s birth is to miss out on entering anew into the gospel story — to experience the context in which Jesus continues to be born.
For it was into such times of terror that the first Christmas took place. Into places of hopelessness, the angels heralded their message of good news. Against the backdrop of a merciless king mass-murdering children, the Prince of Peace was a babe. With the visit of unknown shepherds, a moment of joy was celebrated. To a young family forced to flee their homeland, love was manifest through foreign travelers and their gifts.
The miracle of Christmas is that God continues to show up, even in war-torn lands. God’s presence doesn’t always bring immediate salvation, rather it offers an invitation to help make salvation a reality. It beckons us to find our place in the Christmas story, listening for the cries of the vulnerable and the oppressed. It provides an abundance of ways to nurture the life God brings. From places of desperation in the land we call holy to places of desperation in our own communities, God longs to be born anew.
As we continue preparing to celebrate God drawing near to us, may we draw near to the suffering of the world — that we might participate in God’s saving presence — born anew in us.
Rev. Allison Tanner is pastor of public witness at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, California, and national organizer for the Apartheid-Free Communities initiative.