Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. – Psalm 8:3
War continues to rage in Ukraine and between Israel and Hamas. Earthquakes have torn apart communities in Afghanistan and Morocco. Disagreements between our nation’s leaders grind our government to a halt and sow amongst neighbors and family members Climate change and economic forces continue to impact food security for those who are most vulnerable. It would be easy to survey the landscape and think that God is absent in all of it.
It’s also tempting to think that there is more tumult now than ever before, but we know that there was also great tumult when Jesus was born. We know something of Herod the Great from the Book of Matthew where he orders the murder of all the children two years old and under because he is paranoid about possibly losing his throne. So paranoid that he had three sons murdered, one of his ten wives murdered, and others murdered. Caesar Agustus issued a decree for a census in order to be able to tax people with greater accuracy so that he could invest in the military, building expansion, and overall imperial control.
It was also seen as a time of God’s silence. For 400 years there had been no prophets raised up by God. No brave men or women empowered by the Holy Spirit to call the people to repent and turn back to God. No amazing miracles, signs, or wonders. Only silence. Had God forgotten God’s people? Had God abandoned them in frustration? Looking back now we can see what was going on. We can see that God was putting everything in place for the birth of the Messiah Jesus Christ.
In Advent we wait with anticipation for the return of Christ while we celebrate the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus came during the darkest hour, bringing hope and light. Even in times of apparent silence, God is not absent. God is at work. God is not yet done.
In the face of all that is happening in the world—all the injustice, the violence, the climate crisis, the hunger, the war—on top of our own challenges, it is easy to feel powerless. Like a deer in headlights, we can get frozen and not know what to do. Sometimes the intense suffering causes us to just get numb so that we don’t have to feel so much intense emotion.
But instead of letting ourselves get stuck, in this period of waiting, we can lean into our spiritual practices, whatever they may be, to help us draw closer to God, to help us wait with anticipation and hope. We can also join together in community to take action that will make a difference.
This year, in our advent journey at Bread for the World, we are turning to the Psalms which invite us to see with clear eyes, the world as it is, crying out, come Lord, Jesus, come! And they invite us to hold all of that in the hope, peace, joy, and love that is promised with Christ’s coming. We trust in God’s promises of restoration of the world. We stand in hope, peace, joy, and love to ground us as we offer our lives, following God’s path toward justice and righteousness in the world.
If the God of the universe was born in a dirty, messy manger, in the midst of conflict and injustice and oppression, there is no mess or brokenness in the world or in our lives that God is not willing to step into. New light and life are promised.
Rev. Eugene Cho is president and CEO of Bread for the World. To download the 2023 Advent Devotional from Bread for the World, visit bread.org/adventprayer.