Sunday, December 23, 2012

ADVENT, EMPIRE, AND SEEING ANGELS

Context is everything. Without it, a basic grasp of Nativity--then and now--is lost. But what happens when we locate the story among displaced aliens surviving at the margins of empire? 

This piece is by Dorothee Soelle in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent & Christmas (Plough Publishing, 2001). Soelle writes:

"How and under what conditions had people lived then in Galilee? Political oppression, legal degradation, economic plunder, and religious neutrality in the scope of the religio lictia ('permitted religion') were realities that the writer Luke kept in view in his story, which is so sublime and yet so focused on the center of all conceivable power."

"At last I saw the imperium from the perspective of those dominated by it. I recognized torturers and informers behind the coercive measure, 'All went…to be registered' (v. 3). Finally I comprehended the peace of the angels 'on earth' and not only in the souls of individual people. I understood for the first time the propaganda terms of the Roman writers who spoke of pax and jus when they really meant grain prices and militarization of the earth known at that time (all this can be confirmed by research today)."

"Of course my rereading was politically colored. I too was surrounded by propaganda ('freedom and democracy'). While in the narrative I heard the boot of the empire crush everything in its way from Bethlehem to Golgotha, I saw the carpet bombings in the poor districts of San Salvador right behind the glittering displays on Fifth Avenue in New York..."

"In Paul the causes of misery are called the reign of sin. Without understanding this imperium ('reign') in its economic and ecological power of death, we also cannot see the light of Christmas shine. Living in the pretended social market economy, we do not even seem to need this light!"

"Whoever wants to proclaim something about this light has to free the stifled longing of people. An interpretation of the Bible that takes seriously concrete, everyday human cares and does not make light of the dying of children from hunger and neglect is helpful in this regard. By showing up the incomparable power of violence in our world today, it deepens our yearning for true peace."

"Luke refers to the praxis of transmission and proclamation. The frightened shepherds become God’s messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so."

"But without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. Yet, when we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days."

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