When people talk about this season often phrases like “holiday cheer” come to mind or “festivities”– festive is literally in the word! I’ve certainly participated in a good deal of these activities- including decorating a tree to Andra Day and attending a holiday market. But none of these activities have put me in a holiday spirit.
Rather, what I found resonating in my soul these weeks before the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the season called Advent, isn’t the promises of hope or the cuteness of a baby the world was longing for. The words sticking with me are about loud weeping in the streets. It’s a word about lamentation and a refusal to be comforted.
A lesser known part of the story of Jesus’s birth tells of a vengeful King– one who is scared of losing his power. So when King Herod hears of Jesus’ birth he sends his army door to door, inn to inn to kill all the babies. As a result, Joseph, Mary and Jesus become refugees in Egypt. The book of Matthew tells it this way:
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.
Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
The coming of Jesus is also likened to that of childbirth– another task of women– both the anticipation and the literal feminine body that birthed God-with-us. Women who hold the space for resistance— enter into the community of struggle when they say no more! I will not be comforted!
These women refuse comfort as an act of rebellion, demanding to be heard in a world that didn’t acknowledge them. Their pain would not go unnoticed. Their pain is not wasted. Their cries in the street were just as much a proclamation of the Messiah– a need for someone to make things right, to bring shalom– as the shouts of the angels and the shepherds. Their refusal to be comforted was resilience.
Did they even know about the birth of Jesus when their children were taken? In that moment, I’m sure an announcement of a coming King didn’t feel like good news. Instead it felt like devestation and looked like genocide.
Those mothers understand loss.
Christmas is a story of wailing.
Amid this crescendo of hope that we preach in the Christmas season came horror.
Blood in the streets.
I don’t have to work hard to imagine what that sounds like. Last week news broke about a fatal shooting of two children on the street just a few miles away.
If we were reading this today I imagine it’d say this:
“A voice was heard in the United States, wailing and loud lamentation,
Immigrants crying for their children because they are separated at the border,
Locked in cages, sick from the flu and dying on the floor
Mothers whose children’s blood fills the street.
Hands up! Don’t shoot!
They refuse to be comforted because they are no more”
Have you experienced loss?
Maybe it is the loss of a job, or a relationship. Sometimes the deepest losses are the shattering of our expectations– the moment when we realize things we longed for won’t ever be.
This year was profoundly full of loss for me and my community in many ways. What I keep coming back to in the advent story isn’t about a tiny hopeful baby, but the mothers crying in the streets.
Activist Angela Davis talks about understanding the work for freedom not as acts of heroic individuals but in imagining ourselves in a “ever expanding community of struggle”. I like how this sets the stage for what we see in this passage.
It’s here, tucked into two little verses, I find a glimmer of the advent message I need this year. GodWithMe means that when I cry out in the midst of hurt, loss, grief and overwhelm— God hears. My pain is part of the story of the coming of shalom. My pain can co-exist with shepherds rejoicing.
Advent means that amid an impeachment process and families separated at the border, amid active shooter drills and ongoing uncertainty, Immanuel joined the greater community of struggle. Jesus’ birth has always pointed to the Kingdom by holding the tension of death/life.
The resilience of crying women that moves us toward a bigger hope and a peaceful future is not just for thousands of years ago but also for today.
Psst. I’d like to give a huge shout out to my faith community! If you’re part of it, or been tuning into our advent series, you’ll hear themes of it throughout this piece. Thanks for a profound advent series and being home in a year of struggle.