“In Violence and Travail”: Advent on the Streets

camp(This entry was originally posted on Vanderbilt Divinity School’s Alumni Blog)

I can finally feel the season of Advent in my bones. My heart and mind have been so heavy for so long, weighed down with the news of more death and injustice, with worries about the coming cold, but I can finally feel seeds of hope opening and sprouting within me, blooming silently in my blood. So during this season of Advent where we await the coming of Christ, I wait with open eyes looking for a sign, looking for something, someone, to break into all this suffering and violence and bring good news.

My body and feet, too, are weary and worn. They are weary from marching across the city with hundreds of others after the verdicts in Ferguson and New York. They are worn from climbing in and out of caves and ravines and trekking across train tracks to take Eric Garner Vigil, Christopher Ott12warm blankets and supplies to the countless people who live in tents and makeshift homes in the margins of our city, out of sight, out of mind. I am haunted by the dire conditions in which men, women, and children live in our own backyard—the abandoned trailer parks, the rafters beneath bridges, the lean-to’s made from old billboard signs, the dilapidated and heatless shanties. Yes, welcome to Nashville, the new Bethlehem, where there is still not enough room in the inn, where pregnant women and their partners still wonder if they can cobble together enough change to stay in a seedy hotel room and escape the cold for just one more night.

And I wonder what will change things. I wonder what good news looks like today. I take comfort in knowing that Christ was born, as theologian Walter Brueggemann says, “in violence and travail.” I take comfort in knowing that newness and life can enter our world with a single cry that cracks open the darkest of nights.

dumpster, home2I’m a street chaplain and homeless outreach worker with Open Table Nashville (OTN) when I’m out on the streets, I carry my medic bag along with housing applications, anointing oil, blankets, gloves, and socks. At OTN, we tend wounds, share burdens, help people access housing, build community, and listen for hope. But all these things are not enough—we also work to disrupt cycles of poverty and oppression. “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice,” says Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

So during this season of waiting, let us awaken to the hope-charged air and seize the possibility of creating a better world. Let us wade through systemic violence, through racism and hatred, through hopeless travail, and feel our feet pound the pavement in protest, in prayer. Let us lay down our credit cards, our worries, and our silence at the feet of the living Christ and lean into the coming newness born in the midst of suffering and uncertainty. And then, with God’s grace, let our voices be the cry that cracks open the darkest night and let our very breath, our very marrow, our very being, be the in-breaking of hope, equality, and justice in the world.

Eric Garner Vigil, Christopher Ott2In Violence and Travail
Walter Brueggemann
 
We give you thanks for the babe born in violence.
We give you thanks for the miracle of Bethlehem, born into the Jerusalem heritage.
We do not understand why the innocents must be slaughtered; we know that your kingdom comes in violence and travail.  Our time would be a good time for your kingdom to come, because we have had enough of violence and travail.
So we wait with eager longing, and with enormous fear, because your promises do not coincide with our favorite injustices.
We pray for the coming of your kingdom on earth as it is around your heavenly throne.
We are people grown weary of waiting.
We dwell in the midst of cynical people, and we have settled for what we can control.
We do know that you hold initiative for our lives, that your love planted our salvation before we saw the light of day.
And so we wait for your coming, in your vulnerable baby in whom all things are made new.
Amen.

 

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