By Michael Swartzentruber
The news is disturbing. The claims are bewildering in their gruesome detail. We are now digesting the grim findings of the "torture report" cataloging the treatment of detainees in the wake of September 11th. We read of "rectal feeding" as a way to exert total control over a suspect, and we shudder. Waterboarding. Prolonged sleep deprivation. Threats of death. Can this really be happening in the name of American security, safety, and effective intelligence gathering?
Torture is not something I want to think about right now, especially at this time of Advent anticipation and holiday cheer. I want to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas and sip hot cocoa in the glow of a pine-scented candle. I want to whistle along with a crooning Bing Crosby in Macy’s as I scour the clearance rack. For crying out loud, our Advent theme last Sunday was JOY! Joy I tell you! Torture talk is ruining my Christmas mood!
Forget and forge on to Christmas. That’s what I’d like to do.
Yet, torture is precisely what this strange season of Advent is all about.
Advent is about waiting for “the arrival” (advent) of hope, love, joy, and peace. We wait in excruciating expectation because it is not fully here, not complete, not the way things are. We live in the tense times between “already” and “not yet.” Already God’s life became flesh among us, but the way of God Jesus embodied is not yet fully embraced. Already God’s Spirit is at work doing a new thing with this broken creation and our broken lives, but the Spirit’s work is not yet—indeed far from—complete.
We live in the drama and trauma of the “in-between.” Advent reminds us of this. Our joy is not the stuff of cheery greetings and seasonal decorations, it is the stuff of profound longing. The news of suspected terrorists maimed for expediency, some of whom were mistakenly detained, brings us into the true urgency and intensity of Advent. Torture exposes the tragic brokenness of our world.
Advent is about torture precisely because Advent is about Jesus.
Jesus, the one who embodied God’s saving life, was detained, subjected to enhanced interrogation, and brutally displayed upon a cross for many reasons, not least of which was national security. Crucifixions induced obedience to governing authorities through fear and intimidation. Jesus died as an enemy of the state.
But Jesus’ death by torture was a crucial climax in God’s surprising, saving work. God saves us in a tortured body, not because God stands with states and agents who sanction torture—satisfying God’s bloodthirsty wrath—precisely the opposite, God saves us in a tortured body because God’s relentless love absorbed and reversed the violence human beings visited upon Jesus. Resurrection is God’s response to the sin-sick violence of humanity.
Advent Joy is about welcoming and embracing God’s reversal of torture, even as humanity finds ever-more insidious ways to extend violence. Advent is resistance rooted in profound longing.
And so we wait. Not with mouths closed, mute with spiritual self-satisfaction. Advent is not a spectator’s sport. No, we wait with the Joy of joining God’s “NO!” to torture. We wait by speaking up and speaking out.
Michael Swartzentruber is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He blogs at divinitymusings.wordpress.com.