Dear Henri, Reflecting — Advent Week 3, Day 21


14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
    shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
    Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
    he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
    never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day
    they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
    do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

18 “I will remove from you
    all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
    which is a burden and reproach for you.
19 At that time I will deal
    with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
    I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
    in every land where they have suffered shame.
20 At that time I will gather you;
    at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
    among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes[a]
    before your very eyes,”
says the Lord. -Zephaniah 3:14-20


Dear Henri,

145 people shot at school in Pakistan… 132 were children.

2 police officers shot in Brooklyn just today… igniting already flaring tensions between US law enforcement and protestors.

I just spent my first 'day off' from the work for the holidays racing back to the office to make sure one last toy hamper was placed in the right hands. She was a kind old lady, but sad. She had lost her son last March and this is going to be her first Christmas without him. What's more, this isn't the first child she's lost to violence or early death. Now she's left to raise two little grandchildren the best she can, living in an isolated region.

It makes me wonder all sorts of things, Henri. All week we've been peering into the lives of Mary, John and Elizabeth. All week we've been seeing God as refining fire, as One leading us into the Barrens. Okoro has done well painting a picture of the lives these ordinary folks lived — oppressed, poor, unstable and communal. Here, now, finally, we come to the Annunciation.

By law, Mary could have — should have — been stoned for being pregnant outside of marriage. Whether by the powers of Rome or by the local ruling religious elite (the Pharisees and the Saducees), Mary's life was forfeit for being the wrong person, doing the wrong thing, and certainly at the wrong time.

"When God calls us, God equips us with holy strength and human support. No one bears God's word alone, and yet, nothing make us available to God but the state of our hearts and spirits" (Okoro, p.79).

Let's be honest: rarely does it feel like we're equipped with much of anything against such great evil, darkness and division. Rome had Judea pressed under its thumb; but the Sanhedrin had the people divided over what was right and what was wrong, and what really constituted a good Jew or a "god-fearer". When Mary said "Yes" to God, she automatically defied Rome and Judaic Law. This young girl either truly knew when to respond to God, or had a pathological death wish. The state of her heart, while certainly far from perfect, was receptive and warm.

Probably scared.

Probably filled with a thousand questions.

Probably far more aware than we'll ever be about her being pregnant outside of marriage inside of an oppressive community known for its religiosity, zeal, and internalized shame.

We need an Annuciation tonight, Henri. God knows we do. We need a strong vibrant word that will warm our hearts and clear our minds. If you could see the vitriol people are spewing at one another, about each other… Henri, it would make you cringe! We too are divided in so many ways. People of faith use Scripture to prove ideological points, to win fruitless wars, but even worse: to tell other people of faith how they aren't really of God, or how they just have to get past their issues. 

This isn't a new practice, certainly, but it seems it is reaching a breaking point in our generation's time and place. 

Instead of listening with a desire to listen, we listen with a desire to crush the opposing side with beautifully constructed but painful words. We accuse, point fingers, prove how justice is on 'our' side and dehumanize any other 'sides' so that our lives can go on just as they always have.

I don't know what would happen if God announced Her coming to Mary today. We don't live under the rule of Rome, but there are countries in the world where belief in God warrants death; where women are still killed for dressing the wrong way or desiring to go to school; where the ruling religious class in North America bemoans about people questioning it, and declares this to be 'persecution' (what utter nonsense, and what a mockery it makes of those truly facing physical oppression).

What word would God have for us tonight, Henri? What word?

If God needs to send me into seclusion like Elizabeth… send me into the desert like John… or send me into the fray of possible death like Mary, may it be so. I'm not sure how else to respond to such deep division between people who claim to live lives of compassion… who live lives patterned after Christ. I don't know what to do. I don't know who to be. I don't know HOW to be.

Yet, just as a glorious beauty and illogical healing emerged out of Mary's reception to Gabriel, may we too see unimaginable peace and reconciliation emerge out of our reception of God. We are desperate. We are needy.

Until tomorrown, Henri,


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