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A reflection on Advent 3 by Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Many will know the (prolific) writings of Grace Ji-Sun Kim, a Korean-American, who has visited Australia in recent years. This is her reflection for Advent 3. First published here

We are approaching the third Sunday of Advent, reflecting upon the coming of Christ into a broken and destructive world.

This Sunday’s Advent worship carries the theme of joy and love, but as the killing continues in Gaza, there is no joy. The death toll in Gaza is now more 17,000 people. This number is continuously rising as the airstrikes continue and people are dying from illnesses and lack of food, clean water and medical assistance. The situation in Gaza is dire and heartbreaking for us to watch and witness in real time.

Palestinian Christians who live in Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born, are reminding us of their daily struggles under settler colonialism. Their families and friends in Gaza are dying and being covered by the rubble, as Gaza is now a city with broken, torn and dead bodies lying underneath the rubble.

Palestinian theologian Munther Isaac shares: “If Jesus were born today, he would be born in Gaza under the rubble.”

More than 2,000 years ago, Christ was born as a Palestinian Jew under the Roman Empire, and today he comes to us among the most marginalized, oppressed and broken in our world.

During my visit to Palestine just before the Oct. 7 Hamas airstrike, my daughter and I toured the Church of Nativity, often called the Basilica of the Nativity, located in Bethlehem in the West Bank. This basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land and is revered as the place of the birth of Jesus. I had a broken knee from a fall a few days earlier in Nazareth, so with crutches and a leg brace, we walked into the beautiful church and made our way down the narrow, dark, slippery steps into the lower-level cave where a silver star marks the spot where many believe Christ was born. Origen of Alexandria in 248 believed this cave is where Jesus was born, and Christians around the world continue to believe this.

At that time of our visit, the narrow and slippery steps to the lower level of the church were crowded with tourists and pilgrims from around the world who wanted to see and touch the spot where Jesus was born. Due to the pain of my broken knee, I couldn’t really enjoy the moment as the crowds were pushing their way around me and we felt the need to leave quickly due to the long line of tourists behind us. Nonetheless, it was a visit that was meaningful to me as it made concrete that Jesus was physically incarnated and born as a vulnerable, poor Palestinian Jew. He was born in a crowded stable and placed in an uncomfortable manger where animals ate.

Over the years, Christians have sanitized the Nativity scene of Jesus and made it into something beautiful, glorious and holy. But there is nothing beautiful about being born in a cold stable/cave and being placed in a dirty manger after birth.

I have given birth to three children, and there is nothing glorious about the Nativity scene of Jesus. It is and should be shocking to us as it was for the those during the time of Jesus. A woman wants the cleanest, most comfortable and delightful place to give birth to her child. No one dreams of giving birth in a dirty stable or a cold cave where animals are feeding, sleeping and roaming around. But that is how Jesus was born. And Isaac reminds us if Jesus were born today, he would be born under the rubble — a dark, gloomy, dirty and hopeless place.

This Sunday of Advent, how can we celebrate joy in such a broken, painful and dying world? Jesus came into the world to bring peace, love, joy and hope. He was born under Empire, became a refugee in Egypt and ministered among the poor, marginalized, oppressed and sick. Jesus healed the lepers, engaged with Samaritans, searched for the lost and brought joy and hope to the weary. Jesus said, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.” Jesus is reminding us we need to do likewise. We are to embody Jesus’ message of hope and joy during this season of Advent.

As we approach this Sunday and light the candle of joy, we need to remember Jesus came into the world to set the captives free, to liberate the marginalized and to side with the oppressed. He told us to love God and to love our neighbours. We need to follow Jesus and, as we do, may we represent, express and carry Jesus’ message of love, peace, hope and joy.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim serves as professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Ind., and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the author or editor of 22 books.  She is the host of Madang podcast on Christian Century.