Across the world, the themes of Advent are being shattered right now by a deafening roar of violence and oppression. As Christians celebrate the coming of Jesus to earth, we constantly run up against blatant opposition to this good news. How can the themes of holy waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation do anything in the face of such hostility, power, and brokenness?
News from the Syrian city of Aleppo is disheartening and horrifying. All of the major news outlets are reporting that as the half-decade civil war comes to a close, Aleppo is in disarray. The Washington Post describes the chaos: “The U.N. Human Rights Council said it was given the names of 82 civilians who were summarily executed in two neighborhoods on Monday. According to Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the reports asserted that Syrian soldiers and allied Iraqi militiamen entered homes and killed people ‘on the spot.’ Among them were 11 women and 13 children, he said.” A UN spokesman summarized the plight as “a complete meltdown of humanity.”
384 miles due east, new details have emerged recently about the state of affairs in the Iraqi city of Mosul. Rukmini Callimachi of the New York Times outlines the bizarre and tyrannical dress code that has been established by ISIS, exploring how it has created a city full of fear for reprisal. Within her story, she refers to a George Washington University study by Rasha Al Aqeedi that explains how ISIS has enacted a twelve-article document titled “The Bill of the City” that makes it a punishable crime for women to expose any part of their body in public. Conservative Muslims observe head coverings and modesty in dress, but ISIS’s laws are so extreme that women have been beaten for having any part of their skin showing. Callimachi describes the story of one woman: “’I put on everything —the niqab, the abaya, the gloves, the socks. All I forgot to do is cover my eyes,’ said Ms. Beder, one of a dozen women from recently liberated neighborhoods of the city who recounted their experiences in interviews at the Khazer refugee camp, about 45 miles from Mosul in northern Iraq. Ms. Beder had taken only a few steps when the morality police spotted her, and officers began shouting at her, castigating her.”
In the face of such sadness and injustice, how does the season of Advent speak to the world’s brokenness?
I believe strongly that when we reduce Christmas to a syrupy-sweet holiday of presents and Santa Claus, our hearts are not enlarged but instead shrink under the weight of our self-centeredness. The reality of Advent is so much better than any of the alternatives we can come up with in pop culture.
When we press into Advent, we come face-to-face with the initiating leadership of Jesus. We pause at the wonder of his willful decision to come into our darkness with his great light. We marvel at his selflessness and humility in coming as a baby born to lowly villagers. We rejoice in the truth that since he willfully came to us, our present reality is never the only reality.
Jesus’ coming to earth means that even though we each carry our own wounds, his reality shapes and redefines ours. Where we do not see justice or righteousness enacted, we trust that his promise of making all things new and rectifying all wrongs is the final word. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who has so much to teach us about the meaning of Advent (as Timothy George beautifully captured earlier this week), said that “The season of Advent is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.”
The deepest and most profound need for all leaders is know Jesus more truly, and the season of Advent helps us gather together to do that. Don’t ensconce yourself in the trappings of an illusory holiday, but rather allow yourself to be changed by daily face-to-face encounters with Jesus.