saw the headline that says fighting in Aleppo is hopefully ending. That rebels are going to leave in the next few hours. I am afraid to hope, but everything in me persists in hoping nonetheless. I write the following as something like a prayer, a prayer that this post will be quickly outdated. That these atrocities will be outdated by peace:
Sometimes it seems like Advent and Aleppo cannot exist at the same time.
Advent. This week’s theme is Joy. Advent, all wrapped up in joy, expectation. Joy of expectation. Expectation of joy. Merry Christmas.
Aleppo. This week the U.N. has been rushing to figure out what to do about the genocide occurring in Syria. Aleppo, all torn up by bombs, by blood. Bombs of blood. Blood of bombs. Happy New Year.
Bana, a seven-year-old girl, has been trapped in the eastern part of Aleppo with her family, pleading for the world to do something, anything, to stop the horrors that are occurring. Yesterday she wrote that her father was injured. Today she wrote that she is expecting to die.
Tidings of comfort and joy.
We’ve let it get to this point. The world has watched. The world has waited. The world has sent drones.
I don’t pretend to fully understand the complexities of this war – or any war ( for who can actually understand the compulsion humans have to drain the life blood from each other?). But I know this: this is not how it is supposed to be. Families are not supposed to be slaughtered by their government. Seven-year-olds are not supposed to see their fathers injured, to see their chances at life dwindle, to see the world do nothing.
Seven-year-olds should not have to beg the world to care about their life.
I’ve been paying attention to the stories coming from Syria and other war-ravaged countries for probably two years now, and it sometimes seems like no matter how much I donate, how much I pray, how much I speak, it is all inevitable. They still die. The war still goes on. And after it ends there will be more wars. And more people will die.
It sometimes seems like there is no hope.
But I refuse to accept that.
It will not always be this way. Wars will cease. Death will cease.
So after I look squarely in the face of hopelessness, I refuse to let it win. I refuse to accept all this without a fight. I refuse to accept that there is nothing to be done, or that I have no part to play. I refuse to accept that this is the way it will always be. I can’t live in cynical apathy. I’ve tried.
But I fear how easy it is to let the cynicism and apathy creep in anyway.
I fear how easy it is to be callous.
It is hard to bear the weight of knowing how much suffering there is in the world. I know that. Of course we need to enjoy our lives and the people we share them with. Of course we need celebration, and laughter, and the defiance of despair. Of course we need to smile in spite of everything, of course we need to take deep breaths, of course we need to be thankful.
But I fear that those good things, those things that keep us alive, get tangled up in all the ribbons and wrapping paper and gift receipts. I fear that we are so used to seeing the suffering of black and brown people on our TV screens and in our newspapers that we hardly bat an eye before turning back to our busyness.
I fear my own reaction when I learned of the bombing in Istanbul. I didn’t gasp. I didn’t cry. I didn’t respond with the visceral horror that I did during the Paris attacks. I felt sympathy, a vague sadness, not empathy and grief. The same with the bombing of the Coptic church in Egypt, or the roof collapse in Nigeria. I am disgusted by my own lack of immediate feeling. I am insulated from that pain. I’ve never seen those cities. I’ve never watched someone die.
I fear my own apathy, my own amnesia, my own ability to distance myself from the pain of my fellow human beings. I fear that the slaughter of Yazidis and Syrians is a repetition of Rwanda, of Nazi Germany, of every genocide the world has allowed in the long history of its obsession with tearing itself apart.
I fear we confuse the sovereignty of God with His acceptance of suffering. I fear we forget the brown, heretical peace-maker who was executed by the State for daring to oppose the sovereignty of the Empire, for daring to claim that He was God in flesh, for daring to love outcasts, for daring to tell the religious people they did not know God because they didn’t love the people He made.
I fear that we settle for a pretty, white, rosy-cheeked, tame, individualistic Jesus who offers nice platitudes and fits neatly into Sunday School lessons and never makes a fuss. I fear that we settle for Caesar’s ideal Jesus – a Jesus who doesn’t challenge the powers that be, a Jesus that isn’t scandalous, a Jesus that doesn’t upset the status quo. I fear that we settle for Constantine’s Jesus – a Jesus that speaks from the sky and tells us we are right to go to war, that we will win, that all that matters is winning and control and safety and prestige. A Jesus that tells us it is our manifest destiny to treat life like conquest, to treat people like chess pieces, like collateral damage.
These concepts of Jesus are concepts I find within myself, concepts I am trying to get rid of. I do not want to worship Caesar’s God, for Caesar’s God is merely Caesar. I do not want to worship Constantine’s God, for Constantine’s God is merely Constantine.
Jesus is not the God of suffering. He is the God of the suffering, so He suffered. Jesus is not the God of death. Jesus is the God of the dying, so He died. Jesus is the God of the lives He gave to us, the God of the lives we constantly tear from each other.
Jesus is not the God of those who think they can shoulder their crosses and bags of money at the same time. Jesus is not the God of those who close doors in the faces of people He made. He is the God of open doors, of broken-down ones. Jesus is not the God of empire. Jesus is not the God of death.
A weary world rejoices.
So yes, here we are in Advent, a season where we remember the coming of God in flesh. The coming of God as a poor, brown, Jewish-Palestinian infant. Jesus, a refugee who narrowly escaped systematic genocide. Jesus who looked like the people we are told to fear today, the people who are being killed in the same area of the world as He was killed. The people we shut out, the people we ignore. The people who are treated as the least of these. They are where His heart is, and I don’t think I’m being presumptuous in saying that. What we do to the least of these, we do to Him. We have been letting them die. We have been letting Jesus die.
I wrote a letter to God the other day, asking Him where He puts all the pain. Asking Him how He bears it. I realized what the answer was as I was writing. I realized He wept when Lazarus died. He put the pain in His tears. I realized He let gravity and death suffocate Him on a splintered tree. That’s how He bore the pain. He took it all, through His tears and blood. Perhaps He means for us to do the same. For us to truly weep, for us to put our bodies between the dying and the death that grasps for them.
I have thought a lot over the last several years about what joy means. I’ve been told joy is not happiness. That joy is having peace despite your circumstances. I’d venture to say that it is more than that. Perhaps joy is weeping. Perhaps joy is sacrifice. Perhaps joy is looking death right in the eyes and declaring that the only thing that should die is Death itself. Perhaps joy is fighting for that statement to be true.
However it may be, I hope for this: that our joy would not be ignorant, that our joy would not necessitate blindness, that our joy would not be exclusive to our own experience. May our joy be found in loving a Lord who looked like the civilians of Aleppo, who made the civilians of Aleppo, who loves the civilians of Aleppo. May our joy be found in actively working towards a future where we stop killing each other, where seven-year-olds don’t die.
May our joy be found in looking to the Peacemaker who lived in anything but peace. May our joy be found in making peace, not pretending we already have it.
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
And yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn…
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace;
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.” – O Holy Night
“‘I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.'” – John 15:9-13 (NLT)
Originally published at proceedingwithjoy.co. Reprinted with permission.