On Advent In A World Of Violence

The prophet Jeremiah. Woodcut from the Nurembe...

The prophet Jeremiah. Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Years ago, in a world wracked with violence and oppression, they waited.  Waited for the one who would finally help them break the shackles of this broken world and lead them towards the restoration of God’s kingdom.

They visualized that one to be in the line and mold of the great Kings of times past.  Men of strong faith who used the weapons of war to subdue their enemies and reinstate God‘s reign.  They had forgotten the lessons of the past, the times when they, the oppressed, became the oppressor.  It was in those times that God used their weapons, their tactics, to humble them by sending their enemies to overrun them and return the oppression visited on those they conquered back on themselves.

There are those who say these events, no matter whether Israel was conquered or conqueror   make God out to be an vindictive, petty, violent, and evil God.

I disagree.

Those instances is God showing the Israelites (and us) our own reflection.  It is breaking the myth of redemptive and righteous violence.  Over and over God held up a mirror only to have the sober realization of our actions and the repentance of our violent ways be temporary in nature.

Then, as the prophet Jeremiah said, God had enough.  He sent them into exile, telling them to work for peace and prosperity among their oppressors.  He promised he had great things in store for them when they returned their hearts to him.

Centuries passed.  New oppressors came to rule.  For many, God was still absent.  They would ask “Why isn’t God coming to overthrow our oppressors?”  Others would claim that “Only when society follows every letter of The Law will God return to make things right”.

I imagine God shaking his head and saying “You still don’t get it, do you?”

So, to make His point as clear as possible, God came to Earth to live among us, teaching and showing us exactly what he meant.

Some thought he would come as a conquering King, announcing his presence with all the pomp and circumstance a military leader was due.

But God had a different plan.

He decided to come in the most humble and unlikely of circumstances.

To a young girl.

Out of wedlock.

Engaged to a simple laborer.

Among the oppressed.

Maybe, just maybe, people would understand what God had been telling them for thousands of years.

Maybe they would understand that God’s Kingdom was not an empire created on violence and subjugation.

Maybe they would understand that the sins (violence) of the father are often visited upon the sons.

Maybe, just maybe, we would get it.

So God came to Earth, in the humblest of circumstances, born in a cattle trough to a couple of soon to be political refugees.  His arrival was announced to the shepherds, the dregs of humanity.

The lesson is clear.

God is not in swords, in empire, in military might, in guns.

God is in the most vulnerable of vulnerable.

God’s Kingdom would be found whenever we care for, feed, and clothe those who cannot do for themselves.

God’s Kingdom would be found whenever one person spoke out against injustice.

God’s Kingdom would be found whenever people said “no more” to violence, whether random, planned, or redemptive.

The days of pretending our violence is sanctioned by God began to come to a close with the exile and ended the day God appeared as a newborn.

In scripture, Jesus began his ministry saying:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

The people listening didn’t believe that this son of a Nazarene would lead them out of darkness.

They responded by trying to chase him off a cliff.

The religious leaders of the day were horrified that the man people called Messiah would associate with those they deemed unclean and unworthy.

Jesus told them “It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick”, another way of saying we are to care for our neighbor…especially those we don’t think deserve our love and compassion.

They pressured him saying “Well, The Law says…”

Jesus responding saying “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” meaning God’s Kingdom wasn’t to be found in strict adherence to ritual and observation, but that it was born in the human heart.

In the end, Jesus was killed not because he came as a conquering military hero.

He was humiliated and killed by those who believed that God’s Kingdom could only be found in the power of empire, similar to today and those believe that God somehow needs “a nod from the empire” to be present.

They believed God’s Kingdom could only be found when everyone was subjugated under their interpretation of God, similar to today and those who use blend their interpretation of God and the power of empire to delineate who is in and who is out.

But God said “no”.

God, through Christ, showed us that He could not be contained to or defined by one people.

When tragedy befalls our world, no matter whether it impacts us personally or is half a world away, we feel helpless.

Some ask where God was.

Some ask God how could He let this happen.

Some even curse God.

We do this because these incidents are, like in the OT, forcing us to look into the mirror and see our own culpability for the society we’ve created.

We respond that way because we don’t want to believe we’ve created this society and we don’t believe we can do anything about it.

We forget we’ve already been shown the way.

When Jesus told us “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you / is at hand”, he was not talking about a nation built upon the Law and Rituals.

He said we, through Christ, have the ability to bring the Kingdom to Earth.

When Jesus said “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works…” he was speaking to us individually and us in community.

Jesus, although He was God, he also knew that he was one man, one light in this broken world of darkness.

He knew, and He told us, that in community (wherever two or more are gathered… a cord of three strands) we are capable of more than we could possibly imagine than we are alone.

The answer is not plastering God all over our schools, our money, and all the signs of empire.

The answer is not determining who is in and who is out based upon strict adherence to what sections of the Law we deem most important.

The answer is not getting more butts in the seats at our Sunday services.

The answer is not more metal detectors, more armed guards, or more guns.

The answer is simple.

Love your neighbors.

Love your enemies.

Speak for the voiceless.

Weep with those that mourn.

Feed and clothe the hungry and naked.

Liberate people from their prisons.

Protect the innocent.

Do not return evil for evil.

We are the hands and feet of Christ.

Advent is the season of waiting, of anticipation.

While most in this season reflect on waiting for Christ to come, I believe Advent is God waiting for us to remember that we are the ones we are waiting for.

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