Posted by: Philip Rushton | December 15, 2014

Advent Hope In The Chaos Of Current Events

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. ‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.‘” Jeremiah 33:15-16

I read these words last week after reading the news headlines on my computer. As I meditated on this promise of justice there were images of the protests over the death of Eric Garner in my visual field. The juxtaposition between the scripture and my engagement with current events brought the text to life.

“He will do what is just and right in the land.” These words do not hold a lot of power when we read them from a position of privilege. The promise of justice can only find trivial applications when we read it in a warm house with a latte in hand. In this setting we run the risk of thinking that the Advent story is ancient history instead of current reality.

Yet, one only has to turn on the news to realize that we are still longing for the promise of justice and peace to be fulfilled.

The streets of America are erupting with cries of injustice. Unhealed historic wounds are reopened and deepened when footage of an unarmed black man being choked to death by a police officer goes viral. The ensuing public debate about racism and violence offers little consolation. It lacks nuance and empathy, and opponents aren’t listening to each other. Divisions grow deeper and the hope of seeing the lion lie down with the lamb is pushed further down the arc of the moral universe.

Cries of injustice are heard from the other side of the world. Vulnerable people are caught in the crossfire of terrorism. Winter sets in in Iraq and Syria where millions are without food and shelter. That which is clearly wrong is called right when ISIS leaders justify the enslavement of women and children.

Cries of injustice are heard down the road from us. Another shooting takes place outside a school in Portland. Shootings like this have become so commonplace that this tragedy only lasts a couple of news cycles. Three shootings no longer hold the attention of a nation. Yet, senseless violence persists and leaves grief and anger in its wake.

When we take the risk of naming this reality, Advent is suddenly infused with meaning. Now we understand the hope in Isaiah’s declaration that good news will be brought to the poor and the oppressed. Now we want to sing with conviction Mary’s song about God bringing down corrupt rulers and lifting up the humble. Now we find meaning in the fact that Christ’s coming was announced to a group of shepherds who were on the receiving end of racism and oppression. “He will do what is just and right in the land,” starts to sound like good news indeed.

Theologians explain to us that we live in an in-between time. The kingdom of God has been inaugurated in Christ but it is not yet fully realized. We gain beautiful glimpses of this new kingdom from time to time. We see the image of a black teenager hugging a white police officer in the midst of a protest. We hear stories of humanitarian workers risking their lives to help people in Syria. We read about heroic teachers who protect their students in the midst of another school shooting.

At the same time, however, we know that this kingdom is not fully here. Evil is trying to bring down as many victims as it can en route to its inevitable defeat. Advent is a season where we inhabit this in-between space. We celebrate the hope of Christ’s first coming while simultaneously hoping for his second coming. In this way we continue to join Mary, the prophets, and the shepherds in their longing for justice to be fully realized.

Hope, by definition, is a virtue that sustains us when we see no resolution. We hope for that which we do not see, Paul tells us. To hope is to hold on to the promise that things will be better, that justice will be done even when our current reality seems bleak.

The Christmas story calls us to hold on to the hope that God is going to make things right. The Messiah is going to do ‘what is just and right in the land.’ If this is the case, then those who say that wrong is right, and those who perpetuate violence without consequence will eventually be brought to justice.

Perhaps this hope can help us deal with our anger and our disillusionment. There is no consolation in winning an argument with an opponent that refuses to hear you. There is no long-term justice achieved by responding to violence with violence. Perhaps, though, we can follow David’s example and direct our anger and our anxiety to God in prayer, hoping that he is going to bring about justice for the oppressed.

“In those days he will do what is just and right.” Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

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