The second week of Advent in the Christian Liturgical calendar focuses on hope, and the readings are from Isaiah 11. If you’ve ever googled “the peaceable kingdom” you might see the scene depicted by the prophet, in which the lion eats straw like the ox and lie down with the lamb. Bears will graze alongside cows, and wolves will live alongside lambs and leopards alongside goats. Little children will play near snake nests and one of them, from David’s lineage, will lead the rest of us in this upside down kingdom of God.
Today in church, I couldn’t help but cry in mournful anticipation when we would get to see the wrong things made right in the world, in my world. I heard the readings twice, since I attend two churches regularly. In the evening, I was selected to read the passage, and again my heart broke and my voice cracked as I read verses 3&4;
He won’t judge by appearances,
nor decide by hearsay.
He will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
Needy is not something I feel myself, as I have had the opportunity to see extreme poverty and my life is far from it. The image that stuck in my head was a picture I took in Iraq, or thought I took at least. I just spent over an hour poring through old data CDs looking for it, but to no avail. As I heard these holy words, I recalled a woman sitting outside the main hospital in Samarrah in October 2004, which to military historians would be known as Operation Baton Rouge. To this young woman, it was the night she lost her child.
I remember it so vividly that I could probably draw her fingerprints. They stood out because her hands were soaked in what must have been the blood of her child. The pale raised flesh of her prints stood in stark contrast to the crimson stains resting in the valleys of her scarred fingers. Her palms were open limply toward the sky, begging God and the nearest uniformed friend of mine for answers as to why she suffered so. The infantryman had no idea, let alone about the whereabouts of the child. I remember the amber glow of the incandescent bulbs from the only working generator in town reflecting off the snot and tears covering her face.
The image itself is troubling, angering. Imagine if you were the person who took that poor child from its loving mother. Predator drones were not in use then, but it was a predation nonetheless. In this season of Advent, during this week in which we hope for this world to be turned upside down, this woman continues to cry. Hers is the voice I hear when we sing the hymn so popular this season;
O come, o come God-with-us, disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadow put to flight, bid every strife and quarrel cease and fill the world with heaven’s peace.
Hope is not optimism, it recognizes the injustices so rampant in our world and enables the faithful to live lives that anticipate righting grave wrongs. This righting is what we look forward to in Christ’s coming in under three weeks. Advent is a mournful month, a deep reckoning with these things our world is made up of, like lions and tigers and bears and predator drones and infantrymen. When the day we await finally comes, it is not the prey who undergo fundamental change, but the predators like me and my friends who did those things our society asked of us. Violence, however necessary we might genuinely think it is, will cease. The powerful and the violent will be made ‘right,’ and those who are weak and powerless will have much less change to undergo. They will be vindicated, as Jesus was by himself being weak in the eyes of the world.
The terrible wisdom we predators acquired in this world of death will be washed away. All that will be left to know will be the Lord. This child the Church awaits will lead us in wisdom and understanding, in planning and in strength. We will be stricken by the rod of his mouth, and those who insist on remaining in wickedness will cease to be. We will not harm or destroy, nor study war anymore. We will lie down and weep with parents whose children we took and break bread in the presence of our enemies. Things will finally be right, and there will be every reason to rejoice.
But until that day, we wait…