We all know the story well. Young Mary is going about her business one morning, when out of nowhere the angel Gabriel appears before her and announces that she has been chosen to bear the seed of God — the Christ Child. He will grow in her womb and she will deliver him as a virigin.
26 One month later God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee27 with a message for a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph from the family of King David. 28 The angel greeted Mary and said, “You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was confused by the angel’s words and wondered what they meant. 30 Then the angel told Mary, “Don’t be afraid! God is pleased with you, 31 and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was. 33 He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end.”
34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this happen? I am not married!”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God’s power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God. 36 Your relative Elizabeth is also going to have a son, even though she is old. No one thought she could ever have a baby, but in three months she will have a son. 37 Nothing is impossible for God!”
38 Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.” And the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38).
Often Advent observance is ushered with awe, holiness, and innocence. I would agree rightly so because the wonder that Yahweh — the holy God of all — is powerfully awe-full. Mary's innocenct response about the logistics of her situation often make me smile. Here's this teenage girl confronted by a celestial being with the single most powerful message the known world had heard yet, and she questions: "I haven't had sex yet! How's God going to do this?"
Innocent and brave, I must say.
God must have smiled at that.
Let's consider, however, the world into which this message had been brought: Rome was taking over the world. Rome did not tolerate insubordination. Rome plundered. Rome took. Rome was supreme.
In this ancient Palestine, Rome was committing mass genocide against the Jewish people.
Genocide… the systematic slaughter of a people group by another.
There was mass poverty. Some in Palestine, like the religious leaders or the tax collectors or rich groups like the Herodians could claim wealth. But by and large, malnutrutrition was rampant. Orphans and widows were everywhere.
There was slavery. Even the Old Testament outlined specific ways to purchase and treat slaves, and who did and did not have ownership over slaves. Rome took slavery to a whole new level — a lower level — and many were not even considered to be human beings.
The longing for the Messiah was not a yearning we might feel for a loved one we miss during times apart. It was a pain, it was an agony, it was a sense of last hope in a world of despair where entire people groups stood on the brink of annihiliation, torture, death, and destruction.
And NOW the Lord comes?
Yes. God Comes. Male-child. He comes.
So many of us are overwhelmed by the atrocities in our own world today. I know I tend to shut down due to the overload of it all. What else can I do? Others refuse to even acknowlege the world at all. Some dive in so completely that they love all sense of who they are, of who God is, and end up burnt out and cynical.
The DRC is in literal agony. The women and children facing abuse, violence, rape, neglect and death haunts me. In speaking with a friend who had travelled to the DRC a year ago to teach creative dance to surivivors of rape and violence, I shrank at the thought of someone placing a revolver into my vagina and pulling the trigger. No, that's not TMI. This is happening and unless we can absorb the truth of another's story, we remain ostriches.
The scene in Gaza is horrific. How many more civilians must die before peace comes to the Middle East? How many more Christians have to cheer Israel's actions on before we realize that we're applauding war and the death of non-Israelis?
Even around here, when I am confronted with domestic human trafficking, I kind of grow cold — the slow, creeping chill that nearly makes my heart stop. It's that "AHA" moment: the destruction of our world is not just 'over there'. It's here. Right here.
There is genocide.
There is poverty.
There is trafficking.
There is unnecessary death.
There is disease.
Even the "Culture Wars" between believers — of which I have been a part, if I'm honest — has torn us as the Bride of Christ. Outwardly perhaps we treat each other with respect, secretly we harbour the belief that we are more right than that other person over there. Smug satisfaction in a world none of us can control, and the small nugget of belief that we're on the right track somehow makes it better. A little… perhaps not…
Now at this point, many believers go to auto-pilot and start talking about the hope to come. "Yes, there is death but we have a hope that will not disappoint us!"
Back up a moment.
Advent saw none of that. Mary heard the first signs of hope, but the rest of the world was still facing slaughter day after day. Other than God, Gabriel and Mary, no one else knew of the Hope suddenly so imminent.
So when I enter Advent these days, I beg "Come, Lord Jesus, come". I beg not because I am re-enacting the plea of pre-Christ Palestine, but because those times have never left. We are killing, slaughtering, hurting, maiming, torturing, impoverishing… we are killed, slaughtered, hurt, maimed, tortured, and impoverished.
Advent, if anything, beckons us to be honest with ourselves that we are suffering in this world — for so many reasons. We do not know when Jesus will come, but we beg Him to return soon for we cannot much longer endure. Advent creates space for believes to confront the pain we harbour inside and out, to be truthful, and to usher in Hope throught the atrocity we are bombarded with 24/7.
The Hope is coming, friends, make no mistake. But there is a reason for that Hope to return and to dwell with us. Without any reason, why should Hope make any kind of dwelling among us?
We are in pain, dear Lord, don't you see?!
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
We cannot endure much longer.