“If you, like the magi, seek out the newborn Jesus this season, then this is how you must prepare: by seeking out the oppressed of our world, being immersed in their experiences, crying out to God on their behalf, and working against their oppressors, even against yourself.”
Advent always begins in the experiences of the oppressed.
Advent always begins with the understanding that the world is broken, that people are hurting, and that we do not yet live in the Kingdom of God.
That’s why we begin with the Hebrew prophets, who cry out against injustice and who call out for the inbreaking of God into the world. That’s why we sing O Come O Come Emmanuel, which points to the captive nature of humanity–exiled and mourning, fractured and fragmented in our relationships with one another. That’s why we pause, for four weeks out of the year, and confess that we do not have or know the answers–that we are just as afraid and confused as Jeremiah and Isaiah and Amos were, and that we are still waiting for the kind of salvation they waited for.
Advent always begins in the experiences of the oppressed. We profess and confess a faith predicated on the birth of–some say the incarnation of God in–a peasant boy to a young mother in dubious and dangerous circumstances. This birth that we await this season–it was overshadowed by the looming presence of Empire, the fiat of imperial violence, and the utter fragility of human existence. This child who comes in Advent was as insignificant as the suffering servant in Isaiah: “Like a root out of dry ground.” Advent is not a triumph. It is a nervous and fraught vigil. It is a protest against the status quo, a plea for God’s intervention in this mess we’ve made.
To prepare for Advent, we must be immersed in the experiences of the oppressed, as the prophets were, and as Mary and Joseph were. This is the only possible beginning place if we prepare to receive a savior. Those of us with privileges (white, male, straight, and so on) that help us escape oppression, or that turn us into oppressors, must forsake those privileges. Those of us who live in obliviousness to the lives of young women pregnant in dubious circumstances (like Mary), or people prophesying in the rubble of their former lives (like Isaiah), or under the threat of state violence (like the infant Jesus) cannot possibly prepare ourselves for Advent. We cannot possibly receive this savior. Advent always begins in the experiences of the oppressed.
If you, like the magi, seek out the newborn Jesus this season, then that is how you must prepare. Not by shopping or parties or giving or receiving or any of the usual trappings of this time. You must prepare by seeking out the oppressed of our world, being immersed in their experiences, crying out to God on their behalf, and working against their oppressors, even against yourself. Stand in the streets and cry out like Isaiah, coyly subvert tyrants like the magi, lie down in the low places like Joseph and his family, and, like Mary, labor to bring forth something new and hopeful into this world.
Then, among the the prophets and the weary travelers and the lowing cattle and all those trampled underfoot by this world–trampled underfoot even by you, yourself–there, in the midst of the experiences of the oppressed–you will be prepared for Advent.
The Rev. Dr. Eric C. Smith is Visiting Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity and New Testament Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO, and a Teaching Minister at First Plymouth Congregational Church in Englewood, CO.