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Advent in Wartime

November 30, 2015

Advent in Wartime—Angels Rejoice, Jesus Weeps

The angels announced at Christ’s birth good news of great joy. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14.17). Yet how do we rejoice as we prepare for Christmas amidst a season of rancor and war? Shrill political speeches fill the media. Pain laden protests over racism march on our streets. Fear of terrorism floods our homelands. Millions of homeless seek refuge, shunned as unwanted.

Actually, this sounds just like the first Christmas, doesn’t it? We preach about the Son of God being born into an outcaste community of Galileans, to a couple shrouded by suspicion as to the legitimacy of his birth. He was poor, homeless, and unwelcome, and shortly after his birth fled political tyranny as a refugee. He lived in a militarily occupied country, burdened by exploitation and war.

Christmas calls us to remember that the joy about which the angels sang and Paul proclaimed is not preserved by guarding ourselves against the harsh realities of our world. In fact, because of Christmas, the more we watch the news and grieve over global events, the more we work for racial justice, the more we welcome those whom others reject—the more we are drawn into the heart of God.

My wife Kerry and I returned again this September to the so-called “Holy Land.” It feels increasingly less holy, as enmity, fear, and injustice desecrate the land. One of my favorite places is a little church on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, Dominus Flevit. It’s built where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. “As Jesus came nearDominus Flevit and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’” (Lk 19:41-42). Today, the Holy Land has returned in too many ways to the divided, conflicted, oppressive state it was on that first Christmas. Amidst the tears, we were challenged and encouraged by the courage, faithfulness, and even laughter expressed by Palestinian Christians who are resolute in their determination to be bearers of God’s peace to the Holy Land.

 Pope Francis recently gave a challenging homily on this passage from Luke. “We are close to Christmas: there will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war. It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. What shall remain in the wake of this war…? Ruins, thousands of children without education, so many innocent victims: and lots of money in the pockets of arms dealers. Jesus once said: ‘You can not serve two masters:  either God or riches.’ War is the right choice for him who would serve wealth: ‘Let us build weapons, so that the economy will right itself somewhat, and let us go forward in pursuit of our interests…When all the world, as it is today, is at war…there is no justification – and God weeps. Jesus weeps. It will do us well to ask the grace of tears for ourselves, for this world that does not recognize the path of peace, this world that lives for war, and cynically says not to make it. Let us pray for conversion of heart…Let us ask that our joy, our jubilation, be this grace: that the world discover the ability to weep for its crimes, for what the world does with war.”

So how do we prepare our congregations this Advent so our celebration of Christmas isn’t a charade? A charade is to pretend something is true when it isn’t. What’s at stake isn’t the truth of Christmas. That truth is secure in the faithful love of God. What’s at stake is the truth of our lives as followers of Christ.

The week before Thanksgiving, Kerry and I worshiped at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the home church of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Sunday bulletin included the following ideas to guide our preparation for Advent. “Advent is a time for reflection on our lives and hopes, our actions during the current year and our commitments for the year to come. Most particularly, we have this opportunity to see what have we done to bring about justice for all people, both as individuals and as a church. What have we done in taking seriously the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, not just in arguing about should these youths be in the streets, but what have we done to support them and to encourage them?…What have we done to put pressure on [the government]…to expand Medicaid and get health care for all? It is a time for us to reflect on what have we done individually and collectively to address gun violence in our communities and to address overcrowding and defunding of our public schools. What have we done individually and collectively to decry the demonizing of our Muslim sisters and brothers and the craziness of…governors saying they didn’t want Syrian refugees in this state? What has all this to do with Christmas?…Our understanding of Jesus as a political revolutionary who was trying to free his people from Roman oppression, says that, as followers of Jesus, we also are committed to resisting oppression. As our fore-parents sang, ‘Glory, glory, to the newborn king!’ They understood that Jesus was political, and political language about him and his ministry should not be overshadowed by personal piety. So, as his followers, we are following Jesus in addressing the social problems of our day…” Rev. Dr. Randall Bailey. Retired Professor, ITC, Atlanta

To the cynics and skeptics, to the disheartened and despondent—we say again, “Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her king.” So I pray, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13).

 

 

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