Reading the Bible as an Activist: a Lectionary Series

Advent One - A Thin Veil of Peace

Jennifer Henry

Luke 21: 25-36

On the first Sunday of Advent, Luke’s gospel invites us into an apocalyptic scene, where we are urged to recognize the “now” even as we anticipate the “not yet.”

In these times, the veil seems very thin. To anyone with even an ounce of the will to see, “the signs” (21:25) are 24-7 neon lights. In Canada, oil spills and melting ice signal man-made eco-destruction, as we, despite what might be called positive leadership rhetoric, buy pipelines, disregard Indigenous rights, and miss every greenhouse gas reduction target we set for ourselves. For our friends in places of intense conflict, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or Israel-Palestine, young people coopted as weapons for war scream “terror” (21:26) far before their violated or lifeless bodies are returned. And for the United States, the signal fires of oil and gun addiction can be seen from all around the globe. Hurting peoples are on the move, with walls and guns, their most likely “welcome”.

For Luke’s Jesus, “signs” such as these are the complete opposite of “fake news.” And we are encouraged to take them in. “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap” 21:34-35). Don’t entertain or medicate yourself away. Be wary of a focus on the day to day so all-consuming that you miss the big picture. It’s a sobering challenge-literally—and for those who have the privilege of despair it is a great temptation.

And yet, the text narrates too, the “not yet” we yearn for. We hear the assurance that hope breaks through, truth reaches back from the beyond, and new life germinates. Inviting our collaboration, the work of unveiling the exploitations and inequities of the now opens into the work of undoing, unravelling the systems that uphold the injustice. It is the systems of domination that the humility of Christic power—that Christmas child—promises to bring to an end.

This week I was honoured to sit with women and some men from South Sudan, Palestine, DRC, Colombia and the Philippines—peacemakers all. We were conspiring about our work together—psychosocial support, accompaniment and human rights training for women who have experienced violence in these places of intense conflict. As part of our process, we reflected on the ways that you know a woman is gaining confidence, the confidence that leads her from victim to survivor to human rights defender, the confidence that leads her to join with other women in transforming her community. Despite the differences in culture and experience, one of the most common phrases to describe this confidence was “she lifts her head.” She does that because she is accompanied, supported, and finds her power within, consistent with the love and affirmation from without. She lifts her head in power, in hope, and in persistence to change that which has so harmed her and other women and children.

Where ever we are situated, the foundations of our common life are shaking, with some far more harshly affected by the literal and metaphorical earth tremors. May we come together in communities that tell the truth, in movements that bring hope, in actions that shake the powers, and in love that sows the seeds of wellbeing with all our relations. My friends, may we help each other “lift up our heads,” (21:28) reminding one another, even in these times, that our “redemption,” the renewal of this blessed creation, does indeed draw near (21:28).

Jennifer Henry has worked for over 25 years in ecumenical social justice advocacy on behalf of Canadian churches. She is a settler living under the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant in Toronto. She currently serves as Executive Director of KAIROS Canada.

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