Advent in Aleppo

"Advent" by Eva Holm licensed under CC BY/ Cropped from original, filter applied

It's a cold, but beautiful, December day. Just past the Christmas tree with its motley collection of ornaments I can see blue sky and the bare skeletons of tree branches. The house is warm, I've got a cup of tea beside me, and the cat is curled into a ball of fur on the couch. If you don't mind a little clutter and some cleaning that really ought to be done sooner rather than later, it's a picture-perfect holiday scene.

I think that's why I'm struggling to write an Advent blog post. I just don't really 'get' Advent.

When was the last time I really, truly had to wait for something? The last time I needed rescue? The last time I lived in the land of the shadow of death? I've never had to sit with Rachel, weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more. I am safe. I am comfortable. Even as we hover right at the median household income in the United States, we are still wealthier than 99% of the world. I am beginning to suspect that when Mary sang her Magnificat, I was not numbered among the lowly.

I wonder how many of us pause to consider that maybe we are the proud and the rich, the ones who get toppled from our positions of power and sent away empty in the upside-down kingdom being born. We (and by 'we' I mean other, more creative people) celebrate Advent with Jesse Trees and Advent candles and calendars and traditions that in a thousand ways illustrate just how much we have, because we DO have the resources for the lovely handcrafted wooden Advent spirals. Instead of wondering where our next meal is coming from, we're wondering how to make the season 'meaningful'.

The Jewish people knew waiting. They knew what it was like to lose their homeland, to see their families slaughtered in the power plays of dynasties and nations. They knew what it was to be the small nation, to live at the whim of other powers. We gloss over what it really meant for Mary and Joseph to be in that stable in Bethlehem; not because they wanted to, but because they HAD to go in order for Rome to count its conquered lands. They lived in a system where injustice was the rule of the land and the top 10% ruled over the 90%. They saw cities burned to the ground and thousands slaughtered because of the political resistance of a few. Rome spared no one in Caesar's efforts to prove his absolute rule, and there was no court in which they could plead for justice.

So they waited. They waited in darkness and oppression and death and uncertainty. They waited for the world to be made right.

And now, Aleppo waits. A city bombed to the ground, thousands slaughtered, disease and despair unleashed. Aleppo waits for the world to be made right.

South Sudan waits. Over two million people forced from their homes. Food shortages. Fifty percent of its children lacking critical nutrition, lacking education.

Ukraine waits. Basic services cut off. Fears of persecution for politics or ethnicity.

Iraq waits. Families fleeing violence with nothing but the clothes they wear.

Indigenous people groups wait. Marginalized. Systematically eradicated and now subject to the desires of the dominant culture inhabiting their lands.

They wait in darkness. In oppression. In death. In uncertainty.

They wait for the world to be made right.

No, I'm not numbered among the lowly.

I can light the Advent candles for a waiting world. I can speak of the hope, the love, the joy, and the peace offered in the central figure of God-made-flesh. But I don't think that I can really understand it until I am willing for my soul to be scraped raw by the pain of others,

Maybe this is Advent.

To light the candle of hope which calls us to fear not as we walk into the darkness, facing the worst of humanity in us and in others and believing that somehow God is turning all of this upside down.

To light the candle of love, willing to stand with the marginalized on behalf of the one who became marginalized for us.

To light the candle of joy, gladly climbing down off our thrones, casting aside our riches, our idols, our power for the sake of those who have none.

To light the candle of peace, singing strength into nights that are lonely, hands that are empty, lives that are storm-tossed.

Maybe this is Advent; to move our focus from our restless little wants, and to let God Incarnate do with us as he will, becoming incarnate again and again as we lower ourselves to lift others up.

Perhaps when we have gone low enough we will finally 'get' Advent.


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