Father Alfred Delp, SJ (who wrote meditations on Advent themes from the Nazi prison where he later died) described it as a time for being deeply shaken, "a time for humanity to wake up from the disembodied stupor it had been swallowed up into.”
There are some Christian traditions which observe a time of fasting during Advent. Perhaps the spirit of this practice has been re-captured by Advent Conspiracy, which calls on us to "turn Christmas upside down” by resisting the cultural Christmas narrative of consumption. Indeed, as Donald Heinz writes, "some scholars now call Christmas the civil religion of capitalism.
This new religion of the global market is compulsory for all citizens. While Christian faith is optional, holiday consumption is not.” With the countercultural act of a Messiah born in a stable, the announcement of his birth to a group of vagrant, outcast shepherds and a visitation by a group of pagan astrologers from another culture, God broke into the confused and misdirected society of the time in a very disruptive way. He turned Christmas upside down—but it was necessary.
If Advent is a time for being deeply shaken, then perhaps you have been shaken this Advent season. We are naturally appalled by the December 16 school attack in Pakistan that left 130 dead, most of them children, but we should be further shaken by the realization that an estimated 230 million children today live in countries and areas affected by armed conflict.
We should be shaken by the knowledge that nearly 36 million people are held in slavery worldwide, and one in five women around the world is a victim of rape or attempted rape.
Christ came to shake us, but not to leave us in despair
Father Delp wrote, "If we are terrified by the dawning realization of our true condition, that terror is completely calmed by the certain knowledge that God is on the way and actually approaching” (Delp, Prison Writings). Day after day at IJM, we experience this. We recognize our desperate need of the Advent, and as we wait expectantly God shows up time and time again.
So far in 2014, IJM has helped secure convictions against more than 140 criminals, including traffickers, slave owners and rapists. In Cebu, the Philippines, eight criminals were convicted in half a dozen sex trafficking cases last month. This is more convictions in a single month than the IJM Cebu office obtained in their first five years of operating. This is what happens when we pray the prayer of Advent: "Stir up thy might, we beseech thee, O Lord, and come.”
Father Delp described life as "continuous Advent”: continuously coming to a place where we recognize our need for God and calling out to him for deliverance. Turning Christmas upside down will help us get there.