Scripture reading for today:

Isaiah 7:10-16, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25

How Long?

My children are heavy in my lap, three and six years old, cozy on our couch watching televised British people bake. These children snuggle into me. Their heads smell of shampoo and the faint sweaty sweetness of outdoor play in toques.

Three thousand kilometres away, a record number of migrants have been detained at the border, thousands of children separated from their parents. Seeking safety, risking so much for security, mothers have had their babies taken from their arms. Their breasts ache with unbidden milk.

O LORD, God of hosts, how long? 

My daughter asks for a drink of water, my son for a snack. I swallow my sigh and stand, shuffle to the kitchen, turn on the tap.

At Grassy Narrows, mercury poisons the rivers; mercury poisons the fish; mercury poisons the children. There are at least 100 boil water advisories among First Nations within the territory we now call Canada.

How long will we be left to drink tears? 

The furnace whirrs on, warming us with fossil fuel. We will drive hundreds of miles on these fuels to spend the holidays with family. We will string lights on a tree, its sparkling beauty drawing on those fuels. We will cook feasts of foods that have been wrapped in plastic, peel vegetables sprayed with chemicals in levels low enough not to hurt us.

Somewhere farm labourers pick the pesticide-sprayed produce, breathe in the spray, absorb it in their skin; somewhere the plastic piles up; somewhere the carbons wreak havoc. Even here.

How long? 

I tuck my children into their warm beds, smooth the quilts, turn out the lights. I push down, again, my heart-pounding panic at the world they are inheriting, the world our neighbours are living in, and what I am meant to do about it. I make myself a cup of tea, turn back to a distracting screen or carols that bring a little comfort.

Meanwhile, God is being born. God is feeling cold for the first time on damp skin. God is filling fleshy lungs with air, stretching vocal cords with a first cry. God is hungry for Mary’s milk. God is the child of peasants in an occupied territory. God is a toddler hunted by an egomaniacal king. God is a refugee, a skinned-knee child living hand-to-mouth, a perplexing adolescent. Meanwhile, God is being misunderstood, gossiped about, threatened, mocked. Meanwhile, God is weeping. Meanwhile, God is dying.

How long? 

What does it mean to welcome a God who didn’t swoop in and fix it but instead joined us in it? And who is us? Owning that Jesus came to the margins puts me off-kilter: I live every day benefitting from white supremacy and settler colonialism. So what does it mean to own that Jesus didn’t just come to save me from my sin but to save others from the systems that make me so comfortable, with my twinkle lights and tea?

What does it mean to teach my children about this Jesus, not sweet and silent sleeping in his crib but demanding in his very vulnerability, here to afflict the comfortable even as he comforts the afflicted? I stagger under the burden of injustice and my role in it, not to mention chronic pain, uncertain futures, unanswered questions. This Jesus asks me to take up my cross and also promises a light burden. This Jesus invites me to divest myself of power even as he invites me into greater fullness of life.

What does it mean to acknowledge my privilege as well as my pain? What does it mean to welcome a saviour who has neither healed my body nor righted history’s wrongs, even the ones done in his name?

What does it mean to turn these laments into more than lip-service, to do more than signal my woke virtue or sink into helplessly overwhelmed guilt?

In other words, where is the hope in Advent when we realize we are part of the problems Jesus came to fix, but that he didn’t come to fix them the way we’d like to see them solved?

 

Let us pause here. Let us call this pause the Space of Unknowing. 

 

Here is what I think I might know, or rather, here is what I think I believe: In Advent, we sink into waiting for a saviour who came not in a blaze of glory but in vernix, a God who as an embryo occupied a woman’s most maligned holy of holies, descended from David according to the flesh. We wait for a Redeemer to come again and help us out of this mess, one whom we trust not because he sits high above but because he knelt down with us in the dirt from which we are made and to which we return. We anticipate a Prince of Peace who sits beside us in our suffering and who invites us to sit beside others in theirs, sometimes on their couches and sometimes at our tables and sometimes at picket lines and public protests and sometimes in the halls of power.

Give us life.

Or perhaps it’s like this: perhaps the hope of Christmas, the hope the Lover of us all offers, is like being handed a fresh-born baby, his dark eyes seeking the mirror of yours, his mouth looking for a knuckle to suck. Here — the Creator says — here I am. Please just keep me alive. And you nestle him to your chest and feel him breathing against you and you feel breathless panic at the weight of all the world on your shoulders. And you begin to sink with the responsibility, sink with fear even as you stare in awe.

And they shall call him Emmanuel —

And slowly his eyes shift past your shoulder and at long last you look up and see all the others gathered around the manger, their arms ready to take a turn nestling the baby, their hands ready to steady you. You look around the manger, and you see that you are not alone.

— which means God is with us.

Thank you for reading the New Leaf Advent Reader, a collection of reflections from writers across Canada. If you are enjoying the reader, sign up to receive the readings in your inbox each day here: SIGN UP And please share this reflection with your friends and family who might also enjoy it.