Advent: When No One Believes

Posted: December 21, 2017 in Hermeneutics

DSC_1057 (2)About 5 years ago, I had the privilege of traveling to the Holy Land. I’ll never forget traveling from Nazareth down through the Jordan valley to Bethlehem. The contrasting images and landscapes were striking. Our guide explained that the route we took was most likely the same route Joseph and Mary took two millennia before. At the time I was caught up with the sights and the enormous amount of information we were given regarding the geo-political realities of this holy land and broken people. As we came out of the desert into the mountains, approaching Bethlehem that the massive separating walls came into view.

As we approached the infamous checkpoint, our guide shared stories of the oppressive realities for the indigenous people of Bethlehem, Palestine. A mere 5 miles from Jerusalem and yet Bethlehemites must receive permission from the Israeli government to cross the checkpoint to travel that short distance. Families are often separated and many times unable to see each other for extended periods because the Israeli government rejects their travel requests. This does not even take into consideration the indignities they experience at the checkpoints.

o-banksy-west-bank-facebookAs I witnessed this for the first time, I experienced feelings of anger for the treatment these people suffered. It was just a couple of weeks from Christmas and I couldn’t help but reflect upon the similarities of the story of Joseph and Mary’s journey down through the Jordan valley and up through the mountains to Bethlehem. Their journey was a required trip. It was a form of an occupying force seeking to control the movements of the indigenous people. While Jesus may have been born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were residents of Nazareth in the Galilee region. To say it was an inconvenience to make the trip is an understatement. If they were to make that trip today, they more than likely wouldn’t be allowed to enter Bethlehem (without divine intervention).

After five years (and two more trips) of reflection I have come to the understanding that the wall, whether physical or otherwise, that separate the people and control their movement are exactly the sorts of things that Jesus came to tear down. What is especially disturbing to me is that when I have shared some of these stories and reflections with fellow Christians in the US, people often respond with disbelief and erroneous questions of “prophesy.” I have even, on occasion, been told by well-meaning people that there are no indigenous people in Palestine.

racist_plasma-1These experiences speak to issues of identity for a people who have to fight to tell their stories to a world that often does not believe them. Yet these experiences are not isolated to Palestine/Israel. In North America, systemic racism continues to divide and oppress people going unchallenged as multitudes of privileged people reject its existence. I attended a college (in the mid 1990’s) in the south where students of color were told not to go out alone at night. These harsh realities exist whether some want to believe them or not.

old20salaam20logoWe are in the heart of the Advent season, rapidly approaching the Christmas celebration. The great irony is that the story we tell and retell during Advent is the story and life of all who find themselves in this dark struggle to live free. Much has changed over the millennia, but some basic realities remain the same. The world is still a dark place where hatred and sin seem to reign. I read the prophets and hear the hope-filled messages of light and salvation promised to a world bent on self-destruction. I see in the gospels, God fulfilling his promise freeing creation from the power of sin. Some two thousand years later and we are waiting once again for Jesus’ coming. Like those before us, we prepare our hearts and lives to meet our Lord. We hopefully wait for Jesus to establish God’s rule completely. This will mean that all walls will be torn down. The rulers will be made low and the immigrant lifted up. Those who are hungry will be filled and the rich will be sent away empty. Children will play in parks filled with trees without threat of violence. Young people will celebrate life with dancing. The old will sing songs of joy. Languages will no longer have a word for war or violence. This is the Advent hope. The power of sin being shattered means that all violence and oppression will cease. What I have come to see is that sin is all that sets out to destroy the creative processes of God. Advent is the waiting for and the dawning of a universal shalom in which the promise for life without death is realized.

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