The weary world is in need of rejoicing.
What are things that are wearying the world this year? I do not know where to begin.
I’m scared to begin.
We live in a time so deeply divided, that I’m not sure I can even lay out honestly what things are making me the most wearied, the most brokenhearted, without being too political.
I can’t even write a hopeful Advent blog without delving into controversial territory, or being flatly vague.
What hope does Advent really offer, anyway? An imminent day of celebration is little comfort to the joyless. For some it is just a day to remember all the material things they do not have, not like the rest of us. Our vision of the American holiday doesn’t leave much room for the person who doesn’t get to take part in Verizon’s thanksgetting or the Macy’s Christmas.
There have been some beautiful tributes to Christmas that have given signs of peace, like the Christmas of 1914. Sometimes Christmas gives hope. But the war started all over again. The war always starts all over again.
All I know is that as Advent begins, I am reminded more than ever how much the world needs some grace.
There are kids who will likely spend the majority of their lives in a refugee camp on the edge of the Syrian war zone. There is no room left in the inn of Turkey or Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and America won’t answer the knock on the door. They are in need of grace.
There are men, boys, covering up their faces and brandishing guns to fight for their caliphate. These men, these boys, have mothers and fathers who are worried sick. They have siblings. They have children. Some thought that taking up arms was the only way to feed their children. These men, these boys, are in need of grace; though they know it not.
There are Muslims, Christians, being maimed and killed under the wheel of this same caliphate dream. There are countless families in Paris with presents bought months ago, that will be left unopened. They need grace.
There’s a house in Chicago that will have an empty seat for the second year in a row. He was a lost young man, tossed around several different foster homes all his life, tragically bound up in drugs. He was working on getting his life back on track. But one night he fell off the wagon, got high, and went around slashing tires. A legion of cops came, and he tried to walk away. He needed grace, but instead he got 16 bullets.
There are people for whom the holidays are just a painful reminder of the families they are estranged from, or who have to return to homes where they were hurt deeply and will have to hold hands and pray with the man who molested them and no one knows because he’s a pastor and no one will believe them. They are in need of grace.
There are young women, young girls. Children. All over the world who will service countless clients on Christmas Day. Lonely, crooked, men. They all need grace.
There are young women carrying around a child they didn’t plan on, and they’ve been offered a way out of all the shame and all the pain of their mistake, or the violence that was done to them. The mother and the child are in need of grace.
The sick joke of life left them thinking the cancer was gone, then it came and suddenly there was no time left. Someone will die of cancer on Christmas Day. Probably several people. They all need grace.
It’s such a cliche, now, isn’t it? The hope is born under the stars as a child, under the dark night of evil. Immanuel has come. Everything’s okay.
But it’s not okay. The war is still going. College students are making death threats against whole races of people. Statistically, we are likely to have a few more shootings before the year is over. Marriages are going to dissolve. People are going to die. Another bomb is going to go off.
It wasn’t just okay at the first Advent, either. There was never a Precious Moments nativity. There was poverty and dirt and garbage and it felt more like the slums I visited on the edge of Cairo this summer, rather than a rustic midwestern lodge. There were doors slammed in the face of a family in need of help. There was an impending genocide and an impending race for refuge in the desert. There was a life of hard physical labor, and then wandering and teaching without a place to lay his head, without his family’s support or understanding, without a turkey dinner and presents under the tree. There would eventually be a cross. Suffering. Nails and a crown of thorns, bleeding. Advent is simply the leading up to the birth of a life that is no more pleasant than the most wretched lives of our world. The life of a refugee, the life of a slave, the life of a man whose family that doesn’t understand him, the life of a lynching tree or the wrong end of a police officer’s gun.
Jesus is born not simply in our moments of joy and reprieve, but born in our pain. He is born in our sorrows. And he is not born simply in the sorrows of the innocent (there is no such thing), but born in the sorrows of the lost, the confused, the broken, the sinner, the war-lord and the high tire-slasher. Their lives matter to the Son of God, no matter how others may think of their lives.
If we want to be part of Christ’s birth in the world, we must show up under the stars, in the dead of night, with the ones on the edge of the world, forgotten by the rest. That’s where the star will lead us. We may think the star is leading us to some grand throne room, some mystical showing of a birthed deity. But it’s just leading us to a dirty stable on the night before a bloodthirsty tyrant flips his lid.
It is only there, in the middle of all the filth, that the weary world will find something to rejoice over.
God is with us. God has not forgotten us. God has not told us to suck it up, to stop complaining, to be content with what we get because we deserve much less anyhow. God is not sitting around waiting for us to step over the line out of God’s grace so that God can finally give us what we deserve. Our God is not lurking behind us trying to catch us in sin and torment us for it. God is not showing up to condemn; not to condemn the rebel or the drug dealer or the prostitute. That’s what Satan does.
No. God says, I give you all. I give you everything. I give every single one of you, everything. All of you are in need of everything. All of you are beggars at my table.All of you are the child that is not wanted and not brought to term. All of you are the scared mother who made a mistake, who suffered at the hands of a manipulative or violent man. All of you are extremists and tire-slashers and boys who shoplifted on a dark, dark night in Missouri. All of you are the stuffy moralist and the progressive libertine. All of you are living in unsafe spaces, looking for a place to call home and looking to be welcomed and loved and respected. All of you are refugees and homeless, all of you are in prison and at war. All of you are right and wrong, just and unjust, holy and profane.
And all of you are loved by Me.
So, enter Advent with mourning. Enter it in lament. Enter it in scarily unprincipled empathy and compassion. For that is how our God enters it, that is where our God appears. That is where the child is to be born.
The child is on its way.