“This first Christmas was not a magical holiday homecoming story full of family turkey dinners, carol singing and football games. It did not involve decorating trees, baking cookies and opening wrapped gifts.Rather, the first Christmas is a refugee story.And it tells of a young, poor, homeless asylum seeking couple who fearfully flee their country and become residents in a foreign land in order to save their child’s life.And yet, this story is also a story of hope. It is in the midst of this violent and fearful event when God shows up in the flesh: not as a king who has worldly power, and not as one who is distant and does not understand the plight of the marginalized. Rather, God shows up as one of the marginalized. God shows up in the flesh in a dirty stable, as a vulnerable baby, to a terrified young homeless couple on the margins of society.”
I’m blogging “A God Who Shows Up” over at Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA today). Here is part of what I wrote:
Since I moved away after high school, I always look forward to going back to my parent’s home for the holidays. And since Christmas songs, movies, and holiday TV specials often include themes of magical family “homecomings,” I am guessing I’m not the only one whose focus in December is on getting ready to go home. After all, doesn’t Perry Como say: “If you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays, you can’t beat home sweet home?”
And yet, what about those individuals whose family relationships are broken or abusive, those who feel unsafe in their homes, or those who do not have homes to go to? Can they find places during the holidays that “beat home sweet home?”
It seems as though the theme lately in the news has been one of violence, instability, and displacement. The economy continues to leave many people jobless or underemployed, families are losing their homes to foreclosure, and more and more people are moving to transitional housing or becoming homeless. Additionally, the past several months, we have heard about the terrified children at the border who are fleeing violence. We have seen horrific images of the attack on Gaza that killed thousands of civilians and damaged thousands of homes, and we are aware of domestic violence that occurs in households.
So how can our cultural emphasis on “holiday homecoming” be good news when this “homecoming” is not a reality for so many?
Read the rest at Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA).
Today I’m blogging “An Advent Call Story” over at Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA). Here is a part of what I wrote:
As I was getting ready for Advent this year, I realized that our Christmas songs, TV shows, and movies emphasize the importance of going home for the holidays. As I realized this, I thought about the people who cannot relate to this “holiday homecoming.” I could not help but think about those who lack a safe place they can call home.
I know this is not one of our Advent texts, but as we approached Advent, I was reminded of Moses’ call story in Exodus 3:1-12.
For many years, there had been a famine in the land of Canaan, and as a result, the Israelites left their homes in great numbers and traveled to Egypt to make a better life. However, Pharaoh disliked the growing numbers of Israelites who were taking refuge in his land. He did not want them to make Egypt their new home. So Pharaoh took advantage of the situation and turned these refugees into slaves. For centuries, the Hebrew refugees were forced into terrible working conditions and became victims of racism and violence. In their enslavement, they longed for release from their captivity and suffering and cried out to God.
And this is where Exodus 3 comes in.
– Read the rest at: Bold Cafe (Women of the ELCA)
I am sitting in my church office surrounded by beautiful nativities, candle sticks, crosses, and ornaments that were hand-carved by some of my Palestinian Christian friends who live in the Bethlehem area in the West Bank… items that my church youth are selling both as a way to support our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters and to raise awareness of the situation in Israel/Palestine… and as I sit here, looking at the beautiful holy family carved out of wood from an olive tree – a symbol of peace in the Judeo-Christian tradition – I am even more so surrounded by the incredible memories of my life-changing experience two years ago in the Holy Land – a place where people thousands of years ago waited for the One who would bring peace and a place where people today continue to wait for peace to be brought to their land.
Advent is a time of waiting and preparing… not just in vain, but expectantly for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, the One who brings us hope, peace, joy, and love and who shines light in the darkness of this world. And two years ago today I was waiting and preparing in this season of Advent for my upcoming trip to the Holy Land… to Israel/Palestine… Yet, little did I know that I was waiting and preparing to actually encounter Jesus – coming into my life in extremely transformative ways: where not only did I experience so much genuine hospitality and kindness, but where my eyes were opened up to many of the unheard stories of the plight of our Palestinian brothers and sisters.
As we continue to wait and prepare for the coming of Jesus this next week, I thought I’d share some of my facebook “journal” posts and photos from the trip where I stood on holy ground and experienced the incarnation of Jesus in the people I met and through the stories I heard.
Day 2 in Israel/Palestine: Amazing to ring in the New Year at the top of Nazareth watching fireworks all over the city.
…We also visited the Sindyana of Galilee (a Fair Trade organization in the region of Galilee that seeks to empower and provide jobs for women, reconcile relationships among Jews and Arabs, and support Arab farmers from Palestinian Occupied Territories);
…went to Kfar Bar’am – a Palestinian Christian city where citizens were dispersed and the city destroyed;
…stopped by the place where Jesus may have fed the 5000, and visited and worshiped on the Mt. of Beatitudes.
“I walked today where Jesus walked, and felt Him Close to me.”
Day 3 in Israel/Palestine: walked in the Sea of Galilee; pictured Jesus performing miracles, walking on water, and calming the storm as I heard the Gospel reading and sang hymns with my brothers and sisters in our boat on the Sea of Galilee;
…Ate fish as St. Peter did – with bone, head, and all;
…Saw city ruins from First Century and later in Capernaum and Nazareth;
…And visited Mary’s well in Nazareth.
Jesus walked this land 2000 years ago and made His presence and love known on this land today.
Day 4 in Israel/Palestine: started with an extremely eye-opening meeting with the Arab Association for Human Rights in Nazareth and heard shocking truths that are rarely heard or spoken about;
…Saw ruins from the times of the Crusaders and Byzantines, and a home, tomb, and city road from First Century Nazareth;
…Drove through ancient Joppa (in Tel-Aviv); stood on the Mt. of Carmel, and ended the night hanging out with two new friends who are from Hebron and work at our hotel in Bethlehem – listened to their stories and began to build friendships.
…Experiencing God through the many beautiful people I am meeting and the love and hospitality they are providing.
…Starting to anticipate the celebration of the birth of the One who brings Peace to a hurting and oppressed people (which we will celebrate here on Jan. 6) and beginning to wonder if this is how Mary, the mother of Jesus, felt when she entered Bethlehem before His birth: fear for the unknown and present and future political/societal situation, pain for the suffering of the oppressed, and hope and anticipation for God to bring peace, love, and reconciliation to all God’s creation.
Day 5 in Israel/Palestine: an incredibly difficult and yet amazingly spiritual day: Visited Sabeel (Palestinian liberation group) and Musalaha (a Christian reconciliation group), visited numerous places where Jesus walked and ministered in Jerusalem;
…And ended the evening meeting new friends who are shop owners in old city Bethlehem and hearing their extremely tragic stories. (Including: 1. Story of 27 year old: when he was only 17 – during the 2002 siege of Bethlehem – he participated in some of the non-violent protests against the Israeli occupation. Because of this, one night, an Israeli soldier followed him to his family’s shop, barged into the shop, grabbed him, and slammed him against the wall with his gun pointed at his head, screaming at him for a while. Then the soldier dropped the gun and left the shop. 2. Story of the 65 year old, a shopkeeper near the younger man’s shop. When shopkeepers were forced to close their shops during the Israeli siege of Bethlehem in 2002, this man – along with several other shop owners – decided to protest the Israeli occupancy by keeping their shops open. A soldier busted open his shop, threw a gun to his head, screamed that he would blow his brains out for a while, and then finally dropped his gun – saying he is lucky he is letting him live. These were only a few of the stories I heard.)
…Was overwhelmed with pain and shock by seeing the separation wall;
…Felt Jesus’ love and presence while praying/crying with my sister Celona in the Garden of Gethsemane, and wondered as I heard Jesus’ voice while on the Mt. of Olives looking over the city of Jerusalem if He continues to weep over it today: “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.'”
Day 6 in Israel/Palestine: visited the Wailing Wall and Holy Sepulcher Church;
…Heard from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs about issues in occupied territories: terrible oppression of civilians, the illegal settlements, the issues of poor education, lack of jobs, growing numbers of homeless/refugees due to home demolitions, and families that have been split up because of the Separation Wall and restrictions on crossing territories, and found some hope from Israeli peace activist Matan Kaminer in his true bravery and commitment to fighting for justice and peace for/with the Palestinians.
…Also ran into my new Palestinian friends at their shops. The 27 year old – really smart and kind – said after experiencing much violence in Bethlehem much of his life, he received a scholarship from a university in Illinois but couldn’t go because the US embassy in Israel deemed him a terrorist threat because of his sex, age, and ethnicity. However, he said: “After struggling to make a life for myself, I finally opened this shop to be able to support my younger siblings. I don’t care what this shop does for me, but I care to give my siblings a full life.”
As I stood in the upper room in Jerusalem, I imagined how Jesus invites ALL to the table and as I touched the stone of Calvary, I was reminded of how He suffered and died on the cross to conquer death and bring forth new life, peace and justice to the world!
Day 8 in Israel/Palestine: celebrated Orthodox Christmas in Bethlehem Square outside the Church of the Nativity with festivals, music, and amazing Palestinian food;
…Learned about Palestinian Christianity and Theology of the Land at Bethlehem Bible College; heard more about the Kairos Palestine document at Evangelical Lutheran Church in the infamous and struggling town of Beit Shahour; and ended the evening celebrating Christmas in a huge celebration in the Square with music, dancing, food, and wonderful conversations with the Eritrean refugees.
…Was saddened to hear their stories of how hard it’s been to live in Tel Aviv – as they have received no aid, lived/slept outside for 2 years, and receive little pay for hard work – and to hear how much they wanted to get to the US to gain a better life. But I was blessed to see and hear their true kindness and joy as they celebrated the birthday of the One who gives them hope in liberation and justice.
…Can’t think of a more appropriate place to celebrate Christmas today: in the little occupied town of Bethlehem that has never really been seen as lying still, where a poor and oppressed teenage girl could not find room in an inn 2000 years ago, and yet gave birth to the One who would come to preach good news to the poor, recover sight to the blind, free the captives, and liberate the oppressed.
It is here where I find hope in the birth of that baby in a whole new way and pray: “Oh come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel! And peace to men on earth.”
Related Articles and Websites:
Israel/Palestine 101 (on jewishvoiceforpeace.org) – an introduction to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict
Nakba Fact Sheet (on jewishvoiceforpeace.org) – a fact sheet about what led up to the Palestinian Nakba (or Catastrophe), who are the Palestinian refugees, and the role of the UN.
Encounters with Israeli Soldiers in Hebron (on catholicpeacefellowship.org) – testimonies of encounters with Israeli soldiers by a member of the Catholic Peace Fellowship
Kairos Document – written by Palestinian Christians about what is happening in Palestine
Christ and The Checkpoint Conference – hosted by Bethlehem Bible College: To Challenge Evangelicals To Take Responsibility To Help Resolve the Conflicts in Israel-Palestine By Engaging With the Teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.
A Common Friend to Arabs and Jews – by Lynne Hybels (in Huffington Post)
Breaking the Silence – testimonies of Israeli soldiers of what really goes on in Occupied Territories
“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” – Matthew 24:44 (from our Gospel lesson this week)
Yesterday, I had the most wonderful opportunity to visit one of my best friends (someone I’ve known since preschool) and meet her 3-day-old baby boy. I’ve never given birth to a child, so I can readily admit that I’m not even close to an expert on the subject. However, I do have numerous children and babies in my life, and in watching their amazing parents: I can assuredly say that the time parents have as they wait for the birth of their baby does not come and pass without a lot of preparation and expectation.
From going to numerous doctor’s appointments – to purchasing clothing and other items for the child – to setting up and decorating the baby’s room – to reading all sorts of books on giving birth and parenting: all of the parents I know spent a lot of time preparing for the day when they would meet and welcome their baby for the first time and continue to care for their child for the many days and years to follow. And though sometimes this preparation time may seem a bit overwhelming and requires the soon-to-be-parents to take a few steps back from some of their daily activities that were once a part of their lives, many of these parents have expressed how thankful they were that they took the time to prepare.
This Sunday, we entered the season of Advent: a time in the church calendar that calls us to wait in expectation for a very special birth… the birth of Jesus Christ… Emmanuel… “God with us…” who came to us in the flesh as a baby boy 2000 years ago and who will one day return to us again.
This season often appears to be overwhelming to us and may even feel at times to be an intrusion in our important lives and busy schedules… Our calendars are already full of Christmas parties, Holiday concerts, tree decorating, shopping for gifts, preparing the home to host guests, getting ready to travel and visit our relatives… and the list goes on. So we cannot even imagine adding one more thing to our “to-do” lists.
And yet here – in the midst of our most busy month of the year – we are invaded by the season of Advent and called to take a step back from the chaos, take a few deep breaths, and wait for the coming of the One who brings us hope, peace, joy, and love and who brings light to the darkness in this world.
And yet, just as any soon-to-be parent does not just wait for the coming of her child by sitting around idly twiddling her thumbs, we are not called to wait for the coming of Christ in this idle way, either. Rather, we are called to wait in expectation… and to do so with a lot of preparation.
We, too, should schedule regular “check-ups” for our bodies to ensure that they are properly being taken care of: that they are getting enough rest and experiencing Sabbath from the business of our worldly activities – so that our bodies can truly be temples that host and are transformed by the Holy Spirit. We, too, should set up and prepare a room in our homes and our lives for this Jesus – who not only brings us the gifts of love and grace, but who also calls us to follow him and share and emulate that love and grace to others. And we, too, should pick up our own “What to Expect While You’re Expecting… [the birth of Jesus]” books and practices and take time to reflect on what this birth of Jesus actually means for us… what it means for God to be with us in the flesh… and how the gift of this birth did not only impact the world 2000 years ago, but continues to touch and transform our lives today.
As we make room in our lives for God, we can prepare in expectation for the coming of Jesus by stepping back from a few of our busy daily activities and taking on a few new practices:
1. Individual practices and devotionals. Some of my favorites are:
D365 devotional (There is a free app for this.)
3 Minute Retreat (There is a $1 app for this.)
Daily Readings with the Irish Jesuits (scroll down and click on Advent Retreat)
2. Devotionals and rituals for Advent to do as a family:
Why Wait? (Adult/Couple, Young Family) – Advent is about more than just doing nothing.
Advent Chain (Young Adult) – a creative way to pray for friends and family.
Advent: A Time of Waiting (Teen Family) – as a family, talk about how to wait well.
Countdown to Christmas (Young Family) – read a scripture a day during Advent.
Decorate Family Advent Candles (Young Family) – create Advent hope, peace, love, and joy!
Saint Nicholas (Just for Kids) – here the story of the real Saint Nick.
Taking the Advent Story Home (For everyone!) – a terrific daily devotional.
And we can expectantly prepare for the coming of Jesus by responding to the grace and love he brings us. As we light one more Advent candle each week this month and experience the ever-growing light that comes from Christ in the midst of our darkness… let us not just receive and accept this light, but – as our Isaiah text from this week urges us – let us rather, “walk in the light of the Lord.”
…Let us walk in this light of Christ and pass it on through little acts of love to others – whether by giving our waitress or our postal worker a little extra tip this year, or by starting a conversation with the person we sit next to on the train, or by giving a grocery store gift card to a person who is shaking a cup on the side of the street.
…Let us walk in the light of Christ with our family members by volunteering together at a local food pantry, community or soup kitchen, or homeless shelter. (And as we do so, we may be surprised at how much we will experience and receive the light of Christ through those we thought we had gone to “serve.”)
If you live on the north side of Chicago, some great places to volunteer at are:
- Care for Real (Edgewater’s only food and clothing pantry) – hand out food or help sort winter coats and clothes
- A Just Harvest Community Kitchen (community kitchen that serves meals every day in Rogers Park) – serve a meal
- Bethany Retirement Community or Breakers at the Edgewater Beach Assisted Living – Sing Christmas carols to residents
- Sarah’s Circle (women’s shelter in Uptown) – there are many different ways to volunteer
- The Night Ministry – serve meals to people on the street (multiple locations)
…And let us walk in the light of Christ by giving Christmas gifts that have meaning this year. I’ll echo my last post that offered up a few suggestions of fair trade organizations.
31 Bits – fair trade jewelry and bags from Uganda
Bead For Life – fair trade beads from Uganda
Mata Traders – fair trade jewelry, clothes, and home decor from India
B. Salsa Handcraft – fair trade Palestinian olive wood
Sindyanna of Galilee – fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soaps, and spices
World Vision – purchase livestock for a child in need
*For more options, check out this post on Sarah Bessey’s blog.
Whatever we decide to do this Advent, let us allow this season to intrude upon our lives. Let us step back from some of the extra daily activities that get in the way of focusing on the reason for the season and instead make some space and room to prepare in great expectation for the coming of Jesus Christ. For, as Paul wrote to the Romans (in our epistle lesson this week) “you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
(Video taken at 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering with 34,000 youth attendees from around the country. Speaking is Liberian peace activist, Leymah Gbowee: “If you tap into your light, this is how the world will be.”)