advent week 1 | on slavery & hope
Three nights ago, I stayed up past midnight with a pit in my stomach. I'd just read an article that both paralyzed and enraged me at the same time. It was an article about slavery. But it wasn't an article from a history book - or a historical perspective from the lens of a Civil Rights activist. This article was from last week. And it chronicled the horrors of Libyan slave auctions. Some men - migrants passing through Libya on their way to Europe, trying to find shelter and a better life - were sold for as little as four hundred U.S. dollars.
I thought of my husband. My son. My two brothers. My father. I thought of all the ways they'd risk for me and those they love, if they needed to find a better life for us. And in those moments, my heart didn't just break - it burned. It burned with ache and anger and immense sadness. It burned with rage and urgency. I turned to my husband and asked, "If this were you being auctioned off, would I be doing anything else right now? Anything other than emptying our bank account and pulling every thread to try and save you?"
Forget the fact that we're African-American and this atrocity is happening in Africa. If I were white, or Asian, or Hispanic, or anything else - would I not do everything in my power to save those I loved? Wouldn't you do the same?
We prayed in our bedroom. And I went to sleep thinking of all the slaves: those in Libya; the women and children kidnapped and trafficked in our country - down the street from me; my ancestors.
And then the clock ticked and it was December. Almost time for Advent. In our modernized, American culture of consumerism, the time is now to buy and plan and wrap and hustle and hug and dine and deck the halls.
We are chained to this.
This year, more than ever, I think of injustice. I think of slavery and those wrongfully imprisoned, those put to death unfairly, those suffering from loneliness and abandonment. I think of how tired I am as I scroll through Twitter and Facebook comments. I'm exhausted from the injustice and the divisions of this past year. You may feel the same.
I also think of the pit we will fall into if we're not careful. We will become chained to the grind of consumerism and appearances if we choose to blow past this Advent season, a season meant for waiting and patience and anticipation and slowness.
And so, this Advent, I'm dedicating the next four Sundays - including today - to unchaining myself from the reflexes of the consumeristic Christmas - and I sincerely hope you'll join me. Each Sunday will include an excerpt from a well-known Christmas song or hymn, with a short reflection and a question to consider.
My prayer is that you'll be encouraged and challenged, uplifted and hope-filled, rested and open on December 25th, when we welcome the answer to all of our deepest and wildest hopes and dreams, Jesus Christ Himself.
WEEK 1 | DECEMBER 3RD
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel.
When I read these six lines, I don't imagine the tribe of Israel. These lines don't seem so ancient to me. I think of America, and I think of the Church. I think of pockets of our world where freedom is wishful thinking, and I think of my own soul at times. So much mourning has taken place in the stillness of my heart - for one reason or another. I've mourned over political division. I've mourned over immigrants who so desperately want to be seen and afforded the freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. I've mourned over children who don't have access to the best education. I've mourned over the violence that has ensued at the hands of a few individuals with assault rifles. I've mourned over the loss of my grandmother. It feels like lonely exile. Even though there are neighbors and friends and family members and co-workers and text messages at my immediate access, the feeling of lonely exile is never far from me. Where do you feel most alone in this season? What are you mourning, in your personal world and all around you?
This first verse holds a special word: until. "Until the Son of God appear." For those of us who profess to follow Christ, our loneliness, anger, sadness, feelings of exile and mourning are all so present - and yet they're so temporary. At first, there's a plea - begging for Emmanuel - God with us - to come! And come quickly! I feel this way so often, that Jesus cannot come quickly enough into the loneliness and mourning.
But then there's a command. "Rejoice! Rejoice!" So odd, isn't it? To be expected to rejoice in the midst of the exile of the desert. To rejoice as a captive - as a slave to a master, or a slave to sin. But the command to rejoice is what connects us back to hope. Without rejoicing, we will stay in despair. Without rejoicing, there is no reminder of the hope that's before us. The promise is that God with us shall come. Emmanuel is coming, America. Emmanuel is coming, Church. Emmanuel is coming, lonely soul. This Advent season, how can you intentionally rejoice in the midst of the potentially dark and lonely places?
He sees your pain. He hears your cries. He's acquainted with your loneliness and your mourning. Christ came into this world in the most humble of ways, arriving amidst the pain and groaning of childbirth: messy, cold, lonely - a vulnerable refugee avoiding persecution by a cruel and scared ruler from the very beginning.
He sees. He knows. He's coming.