According to Mapping Police Violence, the police killed 1,147 people in the United States. 25% of those murders were black people. Despite the fact that black people only make up 13% of the population. See here for the data.
This does not account for the daily abuse administered by this system.
In 2017, Donald Trump began his presidency of the United States. He ran a campaign based on fear, nationalism, and white supremacy. Many of his policies from then suggest the same. At least that is my perception and the perception of million other Americans.
Why am I saying this? Because these were the events that were on constant replay in my mind in 2017. These particular events, both small and large, were sufficient to reshape the way I fundamentally understood what was happening in the world.
Social media does not help either. All day long, week after week, we are assaulted with clip after clip of something President Trump said, a police who has either killed someone unjustly, or how violence and war continues to wreak havoc in the world. This daily liturgy of beholding violence and injustice shapes the way we see and experience the world. For one, these realities are real and painful. Also, because we are oversaturated with stories of brokenness. Who can bear these things?
Last year, I came to the realization that being woke to “all” of the brokenness of the world is exhausting and unbearable. I’m convinced that we are exposed to more acts of violence, both small and grand than anyone before us in past generations. Not that the world is necessarily worse. Only, that with the scroll of my thumb, I can see the exhausting and repeated story of a black person being profiled in a store, a clip of some racist quip that President Trump said, and a story of a kid being slammed by a police all with white christians defending it in the comments, all in a matter of three minutes. That can continue multiple times throughout the week.
Continuing on, my experience from January to September resembled this sort of over saturation of stories of injustice. Little by little, story after story, my soul began to shrivel, pain began to harden my heart, and white supremacy and its effects began to be the predominant lens by which I experienced and interpreted the world. I was so burdened with bad news that the light almost went out. So weary and so angry, I couldn’t take it anymore. So I turned off my phone and deactivated all of my social media accounts for the rest of the year.
And then it happened. Advent rolled around and I decided to engage. I don’t actually remember what resources I used last year but reading the stories that led up to Jesus’ birth had sparked new life in me in ways that continue to this day.
3 Ways that Advent re-oriented my perception
God is at Work in the Margins
In the gospel according to Luke, chapter 2 begins with a registration, given under the order of Caesar Augustus, the ruler of the known world. This point is huge. At this very moment in history, the people of Israel, God’s chosen people are living under the boot of the Roman Empire. The land that God had given his people was not a place of blessing and life as it was supposed to be. Instead, they were burdened, bound, and living as aliens in their own land. Thousands of Jews up to this point had been killed by Rome as zealots sought to fight back. Even more, prior to being conquered by Rome, they were under the rule of the Babylonians. And prior to that they were living under the rule of the Assyrians.
It is in this setting that God announces to shepherds that the Messiah is coming. God does not make an announcement to Caesar Augustus or even to Herod. God meets those on the margins and proclaims good news of God’s rule and justice. The promises of God, the thing that he said he would do, it’s beginning now.
God begins his new creation project not in the high places were the powers dwell in riches and comfort. He starts on the margins with the lowly.
God is at work in the margins of society. The privileged can eat their rich foods and enjoy their comfort. Woe to them. But blessed are the poor. Good news is proclaimed to you.
God is Not Coercive, but Patient and Faithful.
Another thing that stood out is that God is patient and the kingdom come is slow. There are literally angels announcing this good news and holding a heavenly concert right before them. And yet, as we know, God comes as a baby. Weak, dependent, needy, and fragile. He suffers with us. He would not start his ministry for another 30 years. Bummer. Let’s seriously ponder this, there has been 400 years of silence prior to this. The God of Israel announces that the Messiah, is here, a Savior is born, and yet we’d have to wait another 30 years before he even gets started? Some people would not live to see this work.
This taught me that for some painful reason, God’s kingdom does not coercive itself on us but works patiently. His way is not to rush onto the scene in power and glamor. He begins with ordinary presence in vulnerability and weakness. Before Jesus would hit the scene he’d first throw tantrums as a toddler and need to learn wisdom like any other ordinary Jew.
This perspective helped me see that justice is a slow work that begins in the margins even as the powers that be live in their comfy places.
New Creation and Old Creation Run Together
Lastly, the announcement of good news and the birth of Jesus did not immediately prevent violence and injustice. Herod believing there was a threat to his positions seeks to end it by ordering the murder of all children two years old and younger. When the Kingdom of God begins, the old kingdoms fight back. They know their time is coming. The violence they inflict and the comfort they enjoy will be reversed if they do not repent. The new creation breaks *into the old. God’s kingdom is launched in the margins under the nose of the Empire. But for the time being, they co-exist. And we currently live in the overlap of old creation and new. Suffering remains and Jesus suffers with us, transforming it and overcoming it in selfless love. Jesus truly came as light in the midst of darkness. As the rulers set up shop in the high places ruling from above, Jesus dwells amongst the hurting as the embodiment of co-suffering love. He becomes a refugee, he becomes the poor not thinking equality with God was something to be grasped. Doing so as the definitive revelation of who God is and the means to conquer the dark powers of the old creation.
These reflections gave me fresh perspective for how God works in the world. Advent gave me eyes to see that God is always present and at work. Even when I can’t discern it. Sometimes we need to return to these ancient stories to renew our minds and re-adjust our frames for seeing the world. Part of our discipleship is learning to see the world the way Jesus does. May advent help us reimagine what it looks like to live faithfully engaged in the work of God in the world.