Tireless Hope

2_2_Advent2014

“You don’t even care about Christmas!” my Mom allegedly shouted in a fit of exhaustion amidst the baking and parties and presents and decorations and happy update letters and raising kids and annoying holiday jingles. The biting wind blew in as she threw a pile of Christmas decorations into the evening snow, and my sister scurried into her room per our dad’s orders.

That’s all I know, really. I’m not sure I was even born yet, but the story is legend in our family, partly because the scene of Mary Ulasich angrily dumping Christmas decorations into the snow is unimaginable. She smiles shyly whenever the story is retold, usually every holiday season.

Mostly our family has been sheltered from the holiday drama or arguments or loneliness that make for good stories and painful lives. Instead it’s been full of home-baked toffee and monkey bread, Christmas serenades from Sandy Patty, Amy Grant, and John Denver & the Muppets, and endless games that my brother usually wins.

The scene has changed a bit as our family has grown, meaning Becca and I are relegated to sleeping on an air mattress in the living room where we are woken up too early by crying nieces and nephews. My dad proudly creates a luge-like sledding slope in our backyard and my mom makes spicy hot cocoa to warm us up.

The house fills to eight adults and seven children and by the time we make the hour-long Christmas Eve drive to Stillwater – where we add our 15 to another 35 or 40 – we are tired, our irritability rising while the sleet pelts the windshield. It melts quickly, though, when we join the others by the fire and the wine and the wii bowling while our uncle and brother pluck strings on their guitars.

It is, in truth, quite lovely.

Some call it blessing. Others call it privilege. It’s what I knew. It’s part of my story.

We won’t be home for Christmas this year.

Most of this Advent we will be in Nazareth, Jerusalem, and the not-so-little town of Bethlehem, looking for hope among peacemakers and activists. We could use a fresh dose of that hope. There are days this glass-half-empty guy finds his cup overturned, the Turkish coffee spilled out and the hope sitting amidst the bitter dregs.

I don’t need to rehash the realities of violence. You watch the news, or at least read the tweets and the FBs. But it’s not just violence that stokes the despair. It’s the fatalism – the possibility that we are locked in this perpetual cycle of “redemptive” violence. Man killing man killing man. Even worse is the possibility that we should be; that it is our God-given decree to overcome evil with violence. We are all quite confident we are on the side of good.

Destroy the Great Satan, force the oppressive Israeli regime into the sea, bomb ISIS, drive back Islam, fight the evil oppressors, put down the evil terrorists.

Is this world even worth living in? I wondered, laying in bed in a lifeless trailer in the Negev desert. It’s the kind of thought that should have me calling my therapist, or at least taking deep breaths through the tip of a clove cigarette. But I didn’t do either. Instead I lay brooding, no tears coming.

I reminded myself that we have to look for reasons to hope, and walked out onto the dry, rocky earth. I opened my eyes in the vast desert hills and found small glimmers of beauty in the hidden life teeming around me:

The coyote trotting on the desert rocks with its prey hanging limply out of its mouth; the lizards skittering into holes left by desert mice; the flock of red, white, grey, and brown pigeons flying in unison, unconcerned with the battles raging around them; the dung beetle playing its role in our complex, beautiful ecosystem; pink fingers stretching out across the open sky while the sun sinks below the horizon; a gesture of grace from a stranger; the extension of forgiveness to a friend; a small child excitedly exclaiming l’chaim (to life) a beat late during her family’s prayers; the cry of a baby entering the world; in-breaking.

This is Advent for the Christian, a reminder of in-breaking. The God of the universe breaks into this world crying a baby’s cry, yearning for a mother’s milk, feeling our hope and despair, entering our suffering, mourning with those who mourn and celebrating with those who celebrate. He joins the victims on the cross, absorbs the violence, declares forgiveness. He breaks the cycle of man killing man, not with more killing, but love. Love and forgiveness.

There are few pictures painted as beautifully as that.

It is foolishness. Maybe naive. But I choose to hope that there is another way, which breaks these stupid cycles, a way where evil is overcome by love. I choose hope in the way of Jesus.

This Advent, we’ll share more reflections and stories from the Middle East, and reflections from friends in the Midwest US. Our realities may be very different from people in other parts of the world, but we all face our own pains, know our joys, and hold our own dreams closely.

And we all welcome December with Tireless Hope.

The phrase ‘welcome December with tireless hope’ comes from this beautiful Christmas song by Sleeping at Last.

 

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