Not in My Neighbourhood

Filtering violent headlines through the eyes of Advent

This hasn’t been a great week in our neck of the woods. Between a serious assault at a nearby secondary school and a grisly murder in one of our local parks, our safe, middle class, diverse and friendly west Dublin suburb feels a bit worse for wear.

I admit to finding this more than troubling. As we hear helicopters overhead on a crisp winter’s night, a voice in the back of my mind says: Oh, no you don’t. Not here. Not in my neighbourhood.

This place is class. It’s beautiful. Children play outside without any of us giving it a second thought. Most houses shelter two-car, two-career families. This is not the place for gang violence, I think. This is not how affluent private-school boys are brought up to behave.

And yet, we know it is. We know all this and more is happening all around us, sometimes right in front of us. But more often than not, it’s hidden from view and we can ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist, or that if it does, it’s happening to someone else, somewhere else.

Romans brings us face to face with this violent world; the Apostle Paul tells us all creation is groaning, and I know this to be true.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22-23)

I imagine oceanic plates collapsing over each other, creating a tsunami killing hundreds of thousands. Creation is groaning.

I picture an island filled with empty life jackets, upturned rafts, motherless children. Creation is groaning.

I see, every day, homeless men and women sitting beside shops and cafes and parking garages, their words a whisper as they ask for change. Creation is groaning.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way in the Message:

“All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within.”

The world is crying out for a Saviour. And so are we, today and every day.

I was thinking how God wants me to deal with this, the cognitive dissonance of a world in chaos with the joyous spirit of Christmas.

Advent, of course, is our answer. The quiet meditations of Advent, this anticipatory season where we wait and wait and wait for the birth of a Saviour, is perhaps the only way we can deal with both. It’s perhaps exactly what this season was made for.

In my Bible college days, we used to act out important events highlighted in Scripture. It sounds hokey, but it worked wonders for memorization. We’d march through the Red Sea and count the Twelve Spies, separate Judah from Israel, and watched the prophets speak. Then, at the end of the Old Testament, we’d put a finger to our lips and say, “400 years… silence.”

The voice of God, through His prophets, was no more.

Those 400 years are represented in our four weeks of Advent. During these weeks, we read clues of Jesus in the prophecies, meditate on His eternal plan for creation, and wait for signs and wonders. Or at least, that’s what I think we’re supposed to.

On this side, we have the benefit of knowing the Messiah did eventually arrive. In fact, for some of us who grew up in the Evangelical church, we may not see much reason to go through the motions of Advent (or Lent, for that matter). After all, we know how the story ends.

But this year, more than ever, I’m longing for the silence of Advent. In spite of the chaos we see around us – or maybe even because of it – we can retrace the steps of expectation, choose to live by faith not by sight, and know our Redeemer is coming even if we cannot see Him.

This may just be the perfect time to quiet one’s self and look to the skies.

It's important to note that Advent’s period of stillness doesn’t absolve us of action or intercession. Rather, it redirects our feelings of helplessness and rage towards a holy anticipation, and the part in God’s heavenly Kingdom we are called to play here on earth.

So instead of going on about the ne’er-do-wells in our neighbourhood, I will choose to remember the reason why Christ moved into ours. He’s playing the long game, the game of restoring all of Creation.

He will silence the cries. And in the meantime, we wait.