These Long Advent Nights

 By Tommy Airey, an Advent Communion Meditation from Detroit

And maybe this is what heroism looks like nowadays: occasionally high-profile heroism in public but mostly just painstaking mastery of arcane policy, stubborn perseverance year after year for a cause, empathy with those who remain unseen and outrage channeled into dedication.
Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (2004)

About 40-50 years after the death of Jesus, Luke’s Gospel, the story of Jesus the suffering servant, was read in its entirety in small Christian communities all over the Roman Empire. Out loud. It would take about 90 minutes to two hours. About the length of one of our movies.

Here’s a short clip of one of the episodes at the beginning:

Luke 2:7: And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place from them in the inn.

And, fast-forwarding towards the conclusion of the Gospel, more than an hour later in the reading session, we hear an echo of sorts:

Luke 23:53: Then he took [the body of the crucified Jesus] down, wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been.

…wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger…

…wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb…

During this season of wrapped gifts under the tree, we subversively tell this Story, what we are compelled is The Greatest Story of All.

It is the Story of a poor, dark-skinned man, a child of refugees, denied access to lodging, born in a dirty smelly stable, wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger.

It is the Story of a poor, dark-skinned man, like King, Romero and Gandhi, a teacher and healer, prophetically speaking truth to power, brutally murdered by the privileged ones clinging to the status quo, wrapped in cloth, laid in a tomb.

These long Advent nights beckon us to unwrap the Body of Jesus, to expose what they did to this precious dark-skinned body and to remind ourselves that those in power, the imperial ones, continue to break and beat and brutalize and kill dark-skinned bodies all over this country and all over this world.

These long Advent nights recall the searing question (not once, not twice, but three times!) of the dark-skinned Jesus to his disciples, in the garden right before he was sold-out and arrested:

Are you awake or are you sleeping?

Are you awake or are you sleeping?

Are you awake or are you sleeping?

These long Advent nights prod us, too, with another of Jesus’ personal interrogations:

Are you able to drink the cup I drink?

It turns out that this Story is not just for us to read and listen to, but to live.

These long Advent nights remind us that we are not alone: that the same Spirit that unbound the wrapped linen and raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us and that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

St. Paul reminded us: as often as we eat this bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. We proclaim the death of the dark-skinned Jesus. But also, living in a city that is more than 90% dark-skinned, we proclaim the death of too many young dark-skinned men and women all over the globe. And with this proclamation, we pledge solidarity with them and we vow to do whatever we can do to stop these crucifixions.

These long Advent nights culminate in a invitation, for all and sundry, to take this bold proclamation and pledge of allegiance, to make it our own and to come forward individually in boldness and courage and grace (because we won’t live out this vocation perfectly) and to receive a chunk of Jesus’ broken body and to dip it into the cup he calls us to drink and to let it nourish and inspire our own witness.

This is the precious broken body of Christ. Stay awake and eat!

This is the precious shed blood of Christ. You are able to drink this cup!

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