We’ve been waiting a long time for Jesus to return. I’m starting to feel like we’ve been stood up. What would it mean to give up on the notion that Jesus shall return to make it all okay?
Some time ago, I rejected the terrible vision of Jesus’ return as laid out in the book of Revelation. I recognize that the gospels occasionally present Jesus as endorsing violence against those who are opponents of the kingdom of God. I can even imagine that some kind of “crushing of the enemies of the kingdom” was a part of Jesus’ worldview. But I don’t think it is Jesus’ best material, and I see the cross and resurrection as a rejection of this way of thinking. At the moment where we might imagine God intervening to vanquish the enemies of God’s kingdom, God is absent. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus declares that he has been forsaken by God. At the meal that celebrates God’s violent intervention to save the Jewish people, Jesus asks his followers to remember the moment when God did not choose to intervene violently. Jesus’s death is not necessary; it is tragic. Jesus dies in solidarity with all victims of violence, especially the victims of state and religious violence. We should be horrified at Jesus’s death and should vow to stop the senseless scapegoating of other humans. In this way, the resurrection can be understood as God’s rejection of the cross as a means of keeping the peace.
More and more, I have the impression that God is not sovereign in the way that we expect, or even in the way that the New Testament writers often expected. It’s something dynamic, but subtle. God is love, and love’s power is strong and courageous, but it is not violent or aggressive. Love is not controlling or domineering. Love has limitations, and yet, it can overcome. Whether it will overcome or not is simply not guaranteed. We must fight for such a victory.
So my hope for humanity is that maybe God was made into flesh to empower us. Not to save us or shame us or indoctrinate us, but to invite us on the difficult journey of choosing love and justice in the face of so much tragedy.
What is happening to Palestinians is one such tragedy that demands justice. For decades, American Christians have chosen to side with the oppressor, Israel, instead of the siding with the oppressed, Palestinians. Thankfully, this is shifting as many Christians learn about the injustices of the Israeli occupation.
I love this prayer, of sorts, from Ta-Nehisi Coates. It’s real and it’s defiant.
“I don’t ever want to lose sight of how short my time is here. And I don’t ever want to forget that resistance must be its own reward, since resistance, at least within the life span of the resistors, almost always fails. I don’t ever want to forget, even with whatever personal victories I achieve, even in the victories we achieve as a people or a nation, that the larger story of America and the world probably does not end well. Our story is a tragedy. I know it sounds odd, but that belief does not depress me. It focuses me. After all, I am an atheist and thus do not believe anything, even a strongly held belief, is destiny. And if tragedy is to be proven wrong, if there really is hope out there, I think it can only be made manifest by remembering the cost of it being proven right. No one–not our fathers, not our police, and not our gods–is coming to save us. The worst really is possible. My aim is to never be caught, as the rappers say, acting like it can’t happen. And my ambition is to write both in defiance of tragedy and in blindness of its possibility, to keep screaming into the waves—just as my ancestors did.” (Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy)
This devotion is provided by Joshua Vis, Ph.D., the Church Engagement Facilitator for Israel and Palestine for the Reformed Church in America.
This year, we were pleased to ask members of our Board of Directors to share their liturgical traditions around the Advent season and reflect on the importance of community and working across faith traditions. The devotions reflect a variety of communions and personal perspectives that support CMEP’s work toward peace and justice in the Middle East. CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute Spiritual Resources. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.
– Your team at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)
Support Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) this Advent season. We rely on your generous donations to continue to pursue peace and justice in the Middle East. Thank you.