Tag: Advent

Advent 2022: First Sunday of Advent

Resisting Injustice
Kelley Nikondeha

Something was always happening in the Galilee – a military action, a protest, a confrontation provoked by local rebels. It was a region rife with resistance. The villages that dotted the undulating terrain refused to easily accept the Roman occupation. An incessant back and forth between the punishing imperial forces and the homegrown freedom fighters left a trail of dead men, enslaved children, and abused women. Because the empire did not easily accept rebellion, either.

This is the kind of landscape that shaped the likes of Ahed Tamimi in Nabi Saleh in the West Bank. In a village that experienced almost daily acts of violence resulting in maimed, jailed, and even dead family members, this young girl and her siblings grew up with the realities of occupation. Their family home was under a demolition order for years, and soldiers regularly raided their house in the night. Her parents organized weekly protests against the Israeli soldiers and the Jewish settlers encroaching on their land. They modeled resistance for her. In the face of soldiers and settlers alike, you fight back. And one day she did. She had enough of the loss and injustice and she slapped a soldier standing in her front yard. Her image was painted on the Separation Wall in in Bethlehem and beamed across the world, making her an icon of resistance before she was even an adult.

It is fair to say that her life in the West Bank under occupation shaped her sensibilities and made her who she was in that moment — and for the rest of her life. One might wonder if growing up in Galilee had a similar effect on young Mary. Formed by Galilee, a witness to occupation and the fight against it, she was likely no shrinking violet. Instead of a slap, she responded with a song. Perhaps she took after her namesake, Miriam of Exodus, and composed songs for the freedom movement she and her neighbors were part of in their village. Maybe the Magnificat was not her only song. 

When we consider that first advent and Mary as part of the resistance movement of her day, given her geography, we can see another angle of her strength. She resisted injustice that impinged upon her and her community. She refused to accept the presence of Romans in her homeland – the tribute paid to Caesar that was an economic drain on her neighbors, the land confiscations robbing too many families of their God-given home, and the daily humiliations of living as a subjugated people. She knew this was not right according to Torah or any other standard of decency. And so she sang.

When we see injustice at home or abroad, may it move us like it moved Mary. May we resist all forms of discrimination, oppression, and harassment. May we advocate for the vulnerable ones in our communities – those who struggle with food insecurity or live with inadequate housing or try to survive on the underside of our economy. Let’s see the systemic injustices and address them for our neighbor, and for our own well-being, too. May we recognize those who are victims of oppression, like those in Gaza, the West Bank, and in refugee camps throughout the region. We can become activists for justice, working in solidarity with them for a future peace.

No one expected a girl from Galilee to step into God’s liberation story. And maybe no one expects us to show up and enter into God’s peace campaign. But like Mary, let’s do it anyway. Wherever we are from and however we’ve been formed, let’s determine to join God’s way of peace that reverses the expected violence of every empire.


Author Kelley Nikondeha is a practical theologian hungry for the New City. She is the co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. Kelley is the theologian in residence for SheLoves Magazine. Her latest book is “The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope”. Find out more about Kelley’s work on her website: https://kelleynikondeha.com/.


CMEP’s first Advent Devotional Book: In addition to our usual Advent Devotionals, CMEP is pleased to have partnered with author Kelley Nikondeha to create a devotional book entitled “The First Advent: Embodying God’s Peace Plan” that is available for purchase for you or your church group. This devotional book contains devotionals for each Sunday of Advent, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as Alternative Advent Practices written by members of CMEP’s staff. Click here to purchase


CMEP is very thankful for those 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.

Christmas Day: He will bring us goodness and light

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward all people (Luke 2:14).

Christmas has arrived! The hope of the living Messiah has come. Today, of all days, may we not be discouraged by the realities of this earthly world. Problems, conflict, and war continue to exist throughout the Middle East, but the good news remains – war does not have the final word. Rather today, we hold onto the hope of all the things the birth of Christ represents. 

He will bring us goodness and light. 

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Christmas Eve: A Child, a Child shivers in the cold… Let us bring him silver and gold

As we read the Gospel stories about Jesus’ birth and childhood, we find King Herod learning from the Magi that the promised one, born king of the Jews, had been born (Matthew 2:1-6). The announcement of the long-awaited’s birth was not joyous news to this earthly king. On the contrary, the advent of this young child posed a significant threat to Herod’s power and position and led him to terrible pronouncements that altered a generation. Herod’s fear manifested in his order that all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, two years old and under, be killed (Matthew 2:16). 

When faced with the fear of losing their power and comfort, leaders and the privileged often lose sight of the broader picture. This was true in ancient times, as it remains true today in current politics, business, kingdoms, nations, neighborhoods, and even our faith communities. The “us and them” mentality presents a false dichotomy. There is only “us” – all of God’s children – a grand reality that those with wealth and influence still belong to those who are vulnerable, underserved, without voice or platform.

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Advent: Do you know what I know?

Isn’t technology marvelous? Computers used to take up the space of entire rooms; now, many carry what are essentially tiny transistors that are faster, with more memory, and include high definition cameras in our pockets and purses! Our smartphones connect us to others by phone, through social media, and we’re only a search away from being able to find answers to countless questions. This connectedness provides us with much information, misinformation, knowledge, and opinions. The news seems to find us these days rather than needing to walk to the postbox for a paper copy. 

The pervasiveness of information and interaction can lead us to believe that we’re more connected to one another now than ever before; however, we are also more susceptible to find ourselves in silos of like-thinkers, separating “us” from “them.” These dividing lines previously crossed by coffee shop conversations, attending family gatherings, or around the water cooler at work have taken hold. Society loves dichotomies, consider these categories: right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, scarcity vs. abundance, dark vs. light, evil vs. goodness, sinful vs. righteous. More often than not, we put ourselves in the “good” or “right” category, simultaneously placing those who aren’t sure they agree or who certainly do disagree in the “other” camp. The gap fills with distance, darkness, vilification, distrust, and fear as the separation wall’s cornerstone. 

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Advent: A song, a song high above the trees with a voice as big as the sea

A song, a song high above the trees with a voice as big as the sea…

This year included the voices of many people exclaiming loudly the injustices they experienced and witnessed firsthand. Consider the story of Mohammed El Kurd, who raised his voice to talk about the realities his family suffered from settlers while living in the East Jerusalem of Sheik Jarrah. I wrote about his story in the article “From Child Displaced to International Activist” on the Do Justice blog of the Christian Reformed Church. The world first learned about El Kurd’s story from a Just Vision documentary called “My Neighborhood” featuring Mohammed when he was only eleven years old. At that time, in 2012, Mohammed’s family lost a portion of their home to settlers who moved into one side of his grandmother’s house. By 2021, Mohammed’s story hit international media, where he and his sister once again faced the threat of displacement as a part of the dozens of Palestinians from the neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah being forced out by opposing claims of Jewish settlers. The activism of Mohammed and his sister Muna had such an impact that Time Magazine named them both on the list of 100 Most Influential People of 2021.

May we have ears to hear their story.

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Advent: A star, a star, dancing in the night

A star, a star, dancing in the night… with a tail as big as a kite. 

Stars are symbolic of many things. For some, they are a spiritual or sacred symbol. For example, an eight-pointed star is a Native American symbol of hope and guidance. For others, stars are a symbol of magic, humanity, divinity, direction (as the Northern Star), excellence, or even fame. Some may say “reach for the stars” as a means to motivate. The star of Bethlehem is one of guidance, the star of David representing hope in the coming Messiah. 

In the Christmas story, we read in Matthew 2 that the Magi (wise men, magicians, astronomers) see a star rise to their west and travel great distances to worship the one who has been born, Jesus, the king of the Jews. This star is the beacon of their long-awaited hope, now realized. Imagine yourself in their shoes. For generations the Jews have been awaiting the coming of the Messiah, literally looking to the skies. Can you imagine the heart palpitations, the thoughts that raced through their minds “do you think it could be?” The compelling sense to see the star, to not miss the joyous occasion, the motivation to go and see – with the thought “we must see this miraculous occasion for ourselves.” 

Do you see what I see? 

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Advent: Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see?

One of my favorite holiday memories as a little girl involves driving through local neighborhoods at night, looking at Christmas lights, and belting out carols with my Dad – mostly off-key! Do you hear what I hear? was one of his favorites and remains one of mine.

Since October 1962, the song Do you hear what I hear? has sold millions of copies and been recorded by dozens of artists. So as we head into Christmas and for those who celebrate Advent, we at Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) will be reflecting on the words of the song as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ Jesus at Christmas.

With the realities affecting the Middle East — from the coronavirus to the May 2021 hostilities between Israel and Gaza, the humanitarian needs in Yemen, the economic crisis in Lebanon, to the one year anniversary of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan — all of us are in great need of seeing and understanding what is happening in the Middle East more clearly.

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Christmas Day: Being Together

As a Historic Peace Church, one would rightly expect the Church of the Brethren to highlight the coming of one hailed as the “Prince of Peace.” That the angels proclaim, “Peace on Earth” and not long after, violence would be used by those in power attempting to stifle this coming child. The political and social context then and now make a robust focus on peace a clear need.

We also assert that all theology is practical—what some would call ethics—and as such, that the coming child embodies the fullness of God’s shalom is of immediate relevance for how we live as Christians and the church in the world. In another context I have defined peace as:

Peace is the presence of wholeness in relationships that are characterized by justice, mutuality, and wellbeing. Peace is not a universal or homogenous experience but is experienced in the appreciation and celebration of diversity and between individuals, communities, nations, and with the environment (non-human world).

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Advent: Love Can Overcome

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.

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Advent: Venturing to the Other Side

The idiom “the other side of the tracks” usually refers to a line of demarcation and separation, often actually railroad tracks, between the more affluent part of a town from a more impoverished area. The separation is often both economic and racial/ethnic. Depending on which side you are on, you either have an acute awareness of the other side—its influence and control on your life—or you have some vague stereotypical ideas of a place you rarely go.

Palestinians know and understand the idiom well, simply by changing one word, “tracks” to “wall,” referring to the separation barrier/wall that Israel began to build in 2002. The separation is also psychological between Israelis and Palestinians. Between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the barrier is a 30-foot high concrete wall.

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