Advent in Afghanistan and Israel
During this time of terrorism and war, what does the preparation time of Advent have to say to us and how does it affect the people of Afghanistan and Israel?
by Jerome F. Winzig
Yesterday was the first Sunday of the liturgical season of Advent. The word means "coming" and for the Christian church it is a time of spiritual preparation through repentance before the coming of Jesus is celebrated on Christmas. Last night a church in south Minneapolis hosted its annual performance of Handel's Messiah. The church was crowded and several parents had brought their young children for the event.
Except for one infant, the children ranged in age from six months to 13. At times the performance would catch their attention and they'd sit up straight in their pews to get a better view of the soloist, the orchestra, or the chorus. Sometimes their attention would wander, and they'd study the dark wooden beams in the ceiling. A three-year-old crawled into her father's lap and cuddled there. When another father took his infant son out of the sanctuary, one of his daughters kept checking the back of the church. After several minutes passed by, she too left to find out what had become of her father and baby brother.
As the children's actions unfolded during the performance, I couldn't help but wonder about other children halfway around the world, in Afghanistan and Israel. They too have mothers and fathers who love them. They too can be intensely interested in something important at one point and distracted the next. But the world in which they live is not nearly as secure as it is for the children I saw last night.
The nine-year-old boy with black hair sat quietly a few rows ahead. He might have been drawing or writing something, because he only looked up at the performance occasionally. An Afghan boy of the same age wouldn't look much different, except for his clothing. In another pew sat three sisters who looked to be 11 to 13 years of age. If they were Afghan girls, they would not have attended school in the last six years and would not be able to read or write.
Long before September 11 and the aerial bombardment of Afghanistan, only 13 percent of Afghans had access to safe water. Only 12 percent had access to adequate sanitation. Every year, 293 out of every 1,000 children under the age of five died. Forty-eight percent of the population was moderately to severely underweight. Iodized salt, an essential for good health, is not generally available.
In Israel, even before this weekend's attacks which killed at least 25, children there live with violence that is unfamiliar to most Americans. Israeli children are sometimes subject to the attacks of terrorists and suicide bombers. Palestinian children are sometimes shot by Israeli troops during street demonstrations or retaliatory raids.
Afghanistan is not a Christian country; 99 percent of the country is Muslim. Israel is 80 percent Jewish, 14.6 percent Muslim, and just 2.1 percent Christian. Yet this season of Advent still has something to do with the people there -- and with us. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago, the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, good will among people."
As we prepare for Christmas -- as we examine how the coming of the Messiah affects us -- we should consider how we can bring peace to those who have no peace. What is our role -- as a nation and as individuals -- in the suffering that happens in many places in the world (and in some places here at home as well).
Advent is a time of repentance. Yesterday's reading from Isaiah tells us, "He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord."
In these days of terrorism and war, how do we learn to walk in the light of the Lord?