Living with an Advent Ache: Incarnation and Solidarity in the Holy Land

*with acknowledgments to Kelley Nikondeha for this phrase from her highly recommended book “The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope

Dear friends

As many of you have read in our past newsletters, The Warehouse staff is committed to rhythms, practises and processes of Corporate Listening and Discernment (or CLAD for short). This involves us submitting the constant listening and contextual analyses we are all engaged in to each other, to the light of Scripture and to the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we can recognise and align our actions to God’s presence and activity in the world. These practises are woven into our day-to-day interactions as well as during times specifically set aside for this work. 

During such a set-aside time in October of this year, we had felt that we needed to spend some time delving more deeply into the book of Habakkuk together. After a day of reading, silence, listening and reflection, one of our colleagues expressed extreme frustration: “I don’t understand why he [Habakkuk] couldn’t just have said, “This is wrong! Just stop it!” – What is all this “woe, woe” and poetry about? What is happening is wrong. Everyone knows that. They just need to stop!”.  We all had a collective giggle at how much shorter the Bible would be if each part was summarised in that way. We also acknowledged the soul-crushing exhaustion which can come during our work of partnering with God in restoring everything that has been lost while witnessing “the oppression, injustice, death, destruction, and dehumanizing conditions that the majority of people in our country, continent and globe endure”[1]. And then we carried on engaging the text because we know that, through the listing of the “woes”[2], the lament and despair, the ongoing wrestling with God, Habakkuk was following in the tradition of all the biblical prophets: naming death and that which deals death, naming the oppression which dehumanises both the oppressed and the oppressor and calling God’s people to see another way which will lead to life and flourishing. This is the prophetic tradition that Jesus Himself followed as He taught, healed, told stories, performed miracles, overturned tables and named death-dealing forces both within His own people as well as within the continuing occupation of the Roman Empire. And this is the same prophetic tradition that, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to practise: lamenting, naming and calling out the things which do not make for peace, and imagining, articulating and creating new alternatives which will aid in establishing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.

Over the years of our existence, those of us at The Warehouse and within our wider community have sought to do this care-filled work in our own context: being aware and alert to what is happening in our context, especially to that which is affecting the most vulnerable and asking the deeper questions about why it is happening – examining causes, probing consequences, delineating linkages and identifying actors[3]. All of this is brought into conversation with Scripture, each other and the Holy Spirit to discern what should be happening. What is God already doing that we can align to? What can we see in Scripture that is familiar and can help to guide us in our actions? Lastly, all of this is turned into action which aligns to that of God’s in the world.[4] 

While we have sought to do this in our own context, we have also followed the work of theologians and other people of faith as they do this work in their contexts. In this, we learn to join the dots between these contexts in order to discern the signs of the times and understand the machinations of various empires as they act on a global stage, as well as to identify the unique ways in which oppression, inequality and evil are expressed in our specific context. We have been blessed with friendships which span across all the continents and have drunk deeply from the collective wells of wisdom of Jesus-followers who are always to be found in the most marginalised communities, partnering with God in the work of restoration. 

In this special edition newsletter, we wanted to share some of the reflections that some of our Palestinian siblings in Christ have shared with us as we together have grappled with what the proclamation and demonstration of the Good News of Jesus looks like in the tragedy that continues to unfold in the place of Jesus’ birth and ministry. These followers of Jesus – sometimes referred to as “living stones”[5] – have lived through multiple occupying powers, including those we read and know about from the Bible and, in more recent history, the “Muslim” Ottoman rule, the “Christian” British Mandate and the “Jewish” Israeli occupation[6]. They have known consistent oppression and yet continue to work for true Peace as followers of the Prince of Peace.   

We also wanted to share some of what we have learned or reflected on as we have held all those affected in our hearts through this season. All of us are still on a journey of learning (as we hope to be for the rest of our lives), some of us have tried to articulate what we are thinking and learning in ways which can hopefully be of some help to those who are asking the same questions. In no way is this an attempt at over-simplifying a seriously complex situation, but it is an attempt to lean in as we continue learning and hopefully to inspire more questions and imagination around how we, as followers of Jesus, can be in solidarity with the least of these in every time, place and people.  

Some of you will wonder why we chose to focus an entire special edition on Palestine and not, say, on the continuing injustices that we see in our own context or even on the ongoing impact of centuries of empire and colonial rule on our own continent. As we have grappled with this question ourselves, we keep coming back to the fact that much of what seems to cause and sustain this ongoing violence appears to have theological roots: the way we in the rest of the world read and interpret our sacred text, the way we understand the work of God in the world, the way we ascribe meaning to the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and what effect this all has on our siblings who bear the ongoing physical, structural and systemic brunt of these theologies. What we believe and profess has concrete effects on those living in Palestine – effects that are not experienced as Good News. In addition, we hope that focusing our attention on the blatant ways in which the empire is currently operating in Palestine will in fact open our eyes to the ways in which the empire operates more broadly – here in South Africa, across the continent, and around the globe. We know that our liberation and wholeness is tied up in each others’ and, even with this zoomed-in focus on Palestine in this special edition, the vision we continue to hold before us is restoration for the entirety of the cosmos.

We profess that we are one Body. We understand that, when one part of the Body hurts, the whole Body hurts. If we have anything to do with the ongoing mutilation of the Body of Christ, we need to be able to recognise, repent and work towards the healing and restoration of the injuries which our own actions (or lack thereof) have caused.

We invite you to read, listen, reflect, learn, unlearn and ask questions with us. In the new year, we will create some spaces for engagement around this content and other resources. 

We are grateful to be on this journey with you.

With love,
Zenzile, Wendy & 

[1] – Going Slow – Sustaining Transformation for the next 100 Years: a newsletter from The Warehouse
[2] – Habakkuk 2: 6-20 (NIV)
[3] – Holland and Henriot: Social Analysis: Linking faith and justice, pg 8
[4] – For more information on this you can read our Annual Report for FY2023
[5] – “Living stones” refers to Palestinian Christians who have been living in the land of Palestine-Israel since the time of the Pentecost and have contributed to preserving the sites and memory of the early Church 
[6] – Mitri Raheb: Sailing Through Troubled Waters: Christianity in the Middle East, pg 101

Read the rest of the newsletter here