A Postcolonial Advent Meditation
The Jews of Jesus’ day were waiting for the coming Messiah. Like the Jews of Jesus’ day we are waiting as well. We are also remembering the coming of baby Jesus and the anticipation surrounding his advent. Along with waiting we are asking for both a personal and communal advent. During this season we are longing to be renewed and reminded of the old, old Story. We ask God to trouble the stagnant waters of our souls.
As we meditate on this story we may hear a call to participate in this Story:
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.”
Mary gives expression to a hope shared by many Jews of her day: a deliverer will come to defeat and plunder the powerful while simultaneously lifting up the poor, the humble, and the tortured victims of Empire. In my experience such a reading is not commonplace in our North American Churches. Usually the advent is rehearsed as a celebration of the mechanical fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. There will be many sentimental performances of the Nativity scene throughout the country this week. There will be readings from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospels pointing out how Jesus ‘fulfilled’ prophecy. There will be little mention of the very real historical situation of Mary and Joseph’s world. A world ruled by the Roman Empire. A world where 5% of the inhabitants owned 95% of the land and resources leaving the scraps to the other 95%. Where the Romans reigned victoriously over its colonies. The news of victory called the gospel.
Are we being called to participate in the story laid out by Mary?
In our meditation maybe we will remember that Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus were numbered among that 95%. That these were folks who lived in the forgotten places of Empire. In a word, baby Jesus was born in what would be a historical parallel to the ghetto. It would take a book to lay out the development of ghetto life in connection to North America’s imperial reality. The story of Jesus’ birth tells us that Mary gave birth to him in a manger. A manger was the last place a person would want to have a baby. It would have been extremely unsanitary for a new born child. We have heard this all before. We get it. Jesus was born of low estate. What of today? What are the parallels today? If Jesus were to be born in our time and place locus imperiium where would he be?
He would have been born in the cut.
What is the cut you may ask? The cut is a space between houses in the projects (i.e. the ghetto). It is a space where all kinds of inhumane illegal activities take place. It is also a space where the homeless sleep. A landscape of broken crack pipes, heroine needles, nihilism, despair, and many other domestic symptoms of Empire. It is a space in the urban imagination, at least mine, where you are reminded that this is a forgotten place. A place at the bottom. But even in the midst of the bottom and despair resides hope and community. It is not completely overtaken by nihilism and the many other leftovers of Empire.
I believe Jesus would have been born in the cut. The Word of God, God Incarnate, King of Kings, Lord of lords, Emmanuel would have been born in a space we drive by everyday in our gentrifying communities. Those spaces we either know nothing about or care little for.
Is this where your imagination takes you when you celebrate Advent? If not, then I am afraid your imagination has been disciplined more by the story of Empire than that of the Advent. It is truly a subversive thought: the salvation of the world came from the cut!