Advent is here and the church will be celebrating the awaiting of Jesus’ arrival. At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation- God has taken on human flesh and has dwelled with us on earth. God is not merely some invisible deity who casually observes the mundane and petty happenings of our world like a child observing his or her ant farm, but God “…lived among us…” (John 1:14).
Jesus Christ draws near to God’s people and fully shares in their joys and their sorrows. During his life, Jesus taught, healed, ate with others, and cried with others. Jesus’ ministry was perhaps most noticeably defined by his compassion for the poor. He called them blessed and assured them comfort from their ills, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted… Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-4; 10). Jesus himself bears the plight of the poor during his ministry. In his passion, the Son of God is “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” as his message of peace and a rejection of oppressive religious and political authorities provokes the powerful to nail him to a cross.
Christ is incarnate today with those are suffering.
Ignacio Ellacuría, a Jesuit priest and theologian living amidst the Salvadoran Civil War of the 1980s and early 1990s, passionately taught that God has promised salvation not only from death and a vague concept of “evil,” but also from historical sins such as slavery, psychological oppression, and political domination. He was eventually murdered by his county’s army in 1989 along with five other Jesuit priests at the University of Central America. He saw the suffering of his people and reflected on the life of Jesus and his identification with the suffering of this world. He then concluded that the suffering people of this world, including his Salvadoran brothers and sisters were “The Crucified People.” In their suffering, the poor and oppressed are the image of Christ in the world.
James Cone wrote God of the Oppressed in 1975 and asserted that “Jesus was black.” In the midst of great and systemic racism in the United States, Cone insisted that the Jesus who was ancestrally Jewish and abided with and suffered with Jews crushed by Roman imperialism, could also be Black if Jesus were truly present with suffering African Americans today. In the incarnate Christ, God took on the form of the oppressed people of that specific time and place in history 2000 years ago in Palestine. If Christ’s salvation is not bound by time or space, whose suffering flesh would he occupy today?
This Advent season and this Christmas, I invite you to remember Jesus’ incarnation in a new way. Jesus did not merely become a human being, but he became a human being who suffered under the heavy hand of oppression. God is with us in the flesh and especially directs our attention to the suffering that he embodied and that he came to save. Jesus is black, Jesus is Salvadoran, Jesus is Israeli, Jesus is Palestinian, Jesus is the bullied gay teen, Jesus is the Syrian refugee, Jesus is the suffering and oppressed of our world. Remember that Jesus entered this world taking on its flesh and that his flesh still suffers today. Pray for those who suffer, volunteer your time to serve a meal to the homeless, contribute money toward eliminating a cause of oppressive suffering, or write political leaders about your concerns about the suffering. Above all, hope. Put your hope in the one who was crucified, but was raised from the dead. Place your hope in the God who can also raise the “crucified people” from death to life.