Today marks the first day of Advent, the season of anticipation, longing, waiting, before the celebration of Christmas begins. Advent, it refers to “the arrival of a notable person.” In the Christian tradition, the first Sunday of Advent focuses on “hope.” Hope is one of the big three that Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 13, “faith, hope and love.” It’s an essential element to the life of those who don’t have all that they long for in this life. Hope keeps us feeling when we want to go numb. Hope offers us another day of breath when the walls of our lungs are caving in. Hope compels us to not give up, but to carry on to keep heading towards that which you believe in.
I want to speak of what hope could look like through the eyes of a Medieval peasant who has been told by the Lords, the Freemen, the Knights, the Church leaders, and the King, that they actually have it good in life. The peasants were the lowest on the totem pole. For those who aren’t familiar, “feudal system” or “feudalism” essentially describes the social and political order that originated in Europe during Medieval times (roughly 800-1400 CE). In it’s simplest form, the system consisted of unarmed peasants who mostly remained moderately poor to very poor by the dominant power’s design. These peasants would have also been subservient to noblemen (lords) and soldiers (knights) who worked for the king in some way. The lords were the ones who held ownership, ‘lording’ their power over the peasants by essentially refusing them the right to provide for themselves. In other words, they created co-dependent relationships with the peasants. The feudal system worked as lords grew in power and prestige. The chief way lords grew more powerful was by acquiring more peasants and making those peasants work the land so they could pay more taxes, and possibly “rent” more land. For a visual, Les Miserables gives sad imagery to this type of system.
Lords competed in this economic system to get more peasants to rent their land, to gain more profit, to tithe more than their neighbor so they can be recognized by the church leaders, and hopefully to King would find favor with them. This corrupt system kept people in their place, and allowed the powerful to become more powerful. Oppressive living was celebrated, and hope for a peasant was not a desirable topic for lords and kings. They liked it when no talk of hope for the future was going on. But every now and then, a voice of hope would arise among the peasants, or for the peasants, and a stirring of hope would arise. This voice of hope, this prophet/prophetess would see the abuse and injustice and could not be silent anymore. That’s the beginning of hope, when their is a voice for the once voiceless.
The voice of these prophets would call lords, kings and other peasants alike, to wake up and open their eyes to see the grief of the land and to begin to lament the lostness of the nation and it’s rulers. Kings would be called to lament the fact that their rule has marginalized many, and left the oppressed majority in sickness and poverty, that has become a hatred for the king and for all that he stands for. This prophetic voice will loudly declare that the reign of the king will not last forever. The prophetess will call all who have ears to hear to begin mourning their pain and turmoil, and will call kings to mourn the end of their reign.
Many times, the only way kings can begin to see their own end is through the critique of the prophet, but do not be fooled by this critique. This critique serves a purpose, because as the critique is broadcast and spread throughout the land, the wrestling of those who once lived in apathy begins to mix together something very strong and unstoppable in some ways. Critique soon moves on to hope. A sad reality in many cultures is that the one who begins to critique the dominant culture is almost always seen as (or made to look like) a trouble-maker, a law-breaker, untrustworthy, a liar, or a lunatic. It’s funny how the voice of hope is always attacked by those who fear to lose most from hope arising.
New, regenerated life comes only after death, but a king must first have ears to hear this. “For a seed to give birth to life, first it must die.” For the peasant, the call is to lament the reality that they’ve been duped, taken advantage of. There’s been grave injustices done at their expense and that needs to be acknowledged so they can properly lament. The hope of this message comes when their eyes are open to a new reality of a life of freedom, when new songs and dirges break forth in the streets of the commoner.
These prophetic messages are not desirable to the ears of the dominant culture, because this message has unavoidably upset a status quo that lends itself to the benefit of the powerful. There’s no place in the “royal” public domain where failure can be faced. Kings don’t want imaginations of the peasants to run wild and begin imagining the good life, that would be the roots of hope, of a revolution. This is why oppression occurs and people are silenced. When prophetesses arise among peasants, lords and king come down on the peasants even more harshly than before, and “hope” that the peasants themselves will turn on the prophet, and even blame them for their suffering. Even if it’s done passive aggressively with a tone of “love,” to mask a hidden motive of control, corrupt leaders will silence talks of systemic change. Kings and lords have a lot to lose.
The feudal lords promote numbness to the problems of the state; the prophets promoted a renewed imagination through critique. These critiques ultimately acted as the birth of a new reality of hope for the oppressed. When the systems of power are critiqued, those on the margins almost always see it as “good news,” because the ability to imagine an alternative community can soon become a reality. Critique and grief combat numbness. Hope and imagination combat despair.
Not much has changed today, except the amount of wealth there is to go around of people. The system says it’s more free than before, but there’s still a pecking order. The rich and powerful can use their money and power to get out from under the law, thus proving that there really is no law, order, or justice, at least for them. The law and order is still for the commoner, the peasant, the ones who are lower on the totem pole. Nelson Mandela once said that “in prison, illusions can offer comfort,” but if you’re not in a literal prison, these illusions become the prison.
All around us, if you’re paying attention, are illusion. The dominant culture wants those on the bottom to see life a certain way, through numb-filled-glasses. So many of the concerns of the peasants arise from planted impulses to become someone or something that we are not. We have been indoctrinated into this authoritarian-political-consumer culture that dominates the weak. We are told in many different ways by many different people that certain realities of our culture/nation are untouchable truths, and that particular ways of being and behaving are not only preferred, but expected.
The prophetic hope-builder in the 21st century has the difficult task of evoking and displaying a new way to be human, to nurture alternative forms of living, and to expose the dominant powers of the day as fraudulent. It is at this point, where kings and rulers die (metaphorically and literally), where new life and new eyes emerge. After all, wasn’t it the prophet Isaiah who received new life and new eyes in the year the king had died (Isaiah 6:1)? When false kings die, the true King can be seen. This is what prophets/prophetesses long to see happen.
There’s much more that can be said here, but for now, the prophetic language of grief is meant to critique the numbness of the kingdom so that lament can happen and imaginations can be birthed again; HOPE. For without voicing the pains of oppression, lament and grief will never truly happen, and if lament and grief never happen, true healing and HOPE will never be realized. A false reality will prevail and the “royal consciousness” will continue to silence. We need prophetic imaginations to have the freedom to spread throughout the land. This is the way of the true kingdom where alternative communities reside, where the status quo is flipped on it’s head, where forgiveness comes from confession; power from weakness; life from death; glory from humility; beauty from ashes; sanctification from suffering; joy from obedience; healing from grief; fullness from being emptied.
At the point of re-gained imaginations, hope can rise and the true King can be seen and known, and the peasants (marginalized and traumatized) can realize their true destiny. The language of hope from the prophet cuts through the despairing, dead imaginations of the peasants, and allows the feudal system to be exposed for what it is. At this point, once again, the peasants can sing and dance and celebrate the hope of the good life. The Not My People of Babylon can be a part of a homecoming where the poor, the grieving, the humble, and the hungry receive their freedom in midst of the celebration. This is precisely where and when the freedom of God is realized.
This is what Jesus not only offered, but made happen. His life for ours, the kings and the peasants alike. Jesus is the great equalizer. He brought the valleys up and the mountains low. He was not a respecter of man. He displayed true power, sacrificial love, and the willingness to die so that all could live, even lords and kings. This Advent, today, we long for Jesus to not just be known cognitively, but to be experienced and embraced intimately. Facts about Jesus can only take us so long, until we need Jesus among us, tangibly, prophetesses who stand with the weak so that the powerful (kings) and the weak (peasants) both have an opportunity to live.
Here’s to hopeful, active waiting. Your voice matters!