“…He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty…”
The Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55
“Glory that has fallen to earth / All of life’s surrendering / To the death that winter brings
In hope of new life…
A child has been born / And all of us are suffering / Beneath the weight of death and sin
In hope of new life”
“Gloria,” by Josh Garrels
“This is the year that shawled refugees deport judges, who stare at the floor and their swollen feet as files are stamped with their destination…
This is the year that those who swim the border’s undertow and shiver in boxcars are greeted with trumpets and drums at the first railroad crossing on the other side;”
From ”Imagine The Angels of Bread” by Martin Espada
Advent beckons us to hope against hope with many images of the paradoxical path of Emmanuel – God with us.
One of the central messages of the season is the unlikely radicalism of Advent’s lead protagonist — Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who is reassured that “nothing shall be impossible with God,” by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. As Mary is led from the obscurity of Nazareth to the notoriety of Bethlehem, the city of mighty King David, she consents to bear the meekness of a holy infant into a society yearning for the might and power to overthrow Caesar’s state-sanctioned divinity.
To say Advent is a season of hope is not to say it’s a time of optimism. Mary’s trepidation, curiosity, and surrender to the will of God mirror my own timidity and frailty when faced with the countless manifestations of injustice in our society. With increasing frequency, I find myself face to face with the apparent futility of dissent, resistance, and disobedience as the planet, the country, the city, and the church careen off into an uncharted abyss.
How is it possible for me [or Mary] to bear the tiny fingerprint of God’s gift of life within my being, when I’m tempted to despair by overwhelming forces crushing my neighbors? When it seems I have so little to contribute to the solutions? When I barely comprehend the problems?
Jim Wallis says, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change.”
Advent shows us the paradox of snow, burying the promise of life beneath leafless trees. The current metaphorical polar vortex speaks to the decay of our discourse, disregard for universal basic human needs, marginalization of the vulnerable, wanton devastation of Creation, and concentration of state power via the blasphemy of xenophobia, self-aggrandizement, and domination.
And yet, the poet, Martin Espada, gives us a prophetic imagination for the springtime ahead – a new year of untarnished hope. “This is the year that squatters evict landlords,” he bellows, “shawled refugees deport judges,” and “the hands pulling tomatoes from the vine uproot the deed to the land that sprouts the vine.”
If Espada’s transformative vision seems audacious, let’s remember the words of Mary’s prophetic hymn, the Magnificat, in response to the news from Gabriel: “[God] has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. [God] has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
God transforms Elizabeth’s sterility to fertility.
God transforms Mary’s surrender to incarnation.
God waits to be born into a culture obsessed with death.
Are we ready to believe that our Advent hope can melt the numbing frostbite of injustice and renew our prophetic creativity and courage?
That liberation from oppression is the path to salvation from our collective sins?
Frank Bergh is a Catholic Worker and community activist and co-founder of the Emmaus House in Chicago’s historic North Lawndale neighborhood. He is an electrical engineer building community power systems with renewable energy in the Global South.