Advent, refugees, and restoration

Christmas, as Christians know, is a time for thinking about restoration – not just in the form of God meeting us as a squalling baby, but in our own lives, as well. I really liked this question-and-answer sheet in my weekly small group last week:

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Clearly it’s not finished yet. I don’t know if it will ever be finished. Part of the problem is that I’m extremely hesitant to see “restoration” in a tangible way. I know many people do: answers to this question at my table varied from new jobs or opportunities, meeting future spouses. While it’s true that some of the worst experiences in my life have given me my best writing material, and that material has benefitted me financially, I hesitate to say that’s from God when I’m already quite comfortable in that regard. I prefer to think of “restoration” in terms of inside work. My restorative goals are learning to forgive people who will never be sorry and learning to move forward despite never receiving apologies for past wrongs.

But that’s not how many Christians I know use that word, and that troubles me.

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I’ve vented about this before, but Christmas, especially, is a time to really consider what we mean when we praise God for gifts that more likely come through hard work or simply being born into a state of privilege. I keep seeing Facebook posts from people praising God for new cars, new homes, or finding a $20 bill in the pocket of old jeans, and it’s becoming really difficult not to judge.

I personally feel that the Syrian refugee crisis coinciding with Advent is no coincidence, but a motion to get us Western Christians thinking about what it truly is to be poor in possessions but rich in spirit. I cannot reconcile an infant savior born in a filthy stable to parents who would be on food stamps if they lived in 21st-century America with this borderline prosperity-oriented thinking. I know part of being a Christian is finding a community to grow with, but it honestly hurts my relationship with God when so many people see him as a gift-giver doling out more blessings to people who, as it appears on the outside, already have enough.

Judaism teaches about tzedakah, or charity, and tikkun olam (“mending the world”) as obligations that are just as mandatory as Christ’s command to “Give up everything and follow me.” Those teachings influence my faith more than anything else.

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