With the onset of Advent, Christians once again have the opportunity to slow down and reflect on the birth of the Savior. For centuries, Christians have historically understood Advent as more than just a day (Christmas) but an entire season marked by heightened introspection and expectation, lament and hope. In light of this, various church traditions have created tools to help shape and form the devotions of Christians in this season.
Two Christians of color have jumped into the fray with Advent devotionals that offer unique perspectives and emphases that are often lacking or in the background of most devotionals.
Rondell Treviño is the founder of The immigration Coalition — a faith-based nonprofit that provides biblically balanced resources on immigration that show compassion to immigrants and respect for the rule of law. Treviño is the author of Anticipating the Birth of Jesus: An Advent Devotional on Immigration.
Dante Stewart is a writer and speaker who contributes in the areas of Black religion and theology, history, writing, and ministry. Currently studying for a Masters of Arts in Religion at Reformed Theological Seminary, Stewart is the author of Prophesy Hope! An Advent Reflection on Hope, Peace, Love, and Freedom.
Faithfully Magazine spoke with Trevino and Stewart by email about their understanding of Advent and what unique contributions they hope their respective devotionals offer Christians. The transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What does Advent mean to you? What is the importance of Advent for Christians?
Treviño: Advent is the Latin word adventus, which is the translation of the Greek word parousia — a word that is both used for the coming of Jesus’ miraculous birth and His second coming that we anticipate with great expectation now, where He will wipe every tear from every eye and usher in the Kingdom of God. To me, Advent is to simultaneously focus on the past and future of our Savior, Jesus.
The Advent season is of vital importance to Christians because it reminds us of God fulfilling the promise of Jesus’ birth, the anticipation the Israelites felt as they waited for the promised Messiah to finally come, and the feeling of anticipation we should have as Christians today as we wait with great expectation for Jesus’ second coming, where all things will be made new.
Stewart: For me, Advent means a focused time of reflection and renewal. It is not simply a time to deeply reflect and work for renewal in my own personal life but also to look out for areas of reflection and spaces of renewal in God’s world. It has been one of the faults of Christianity, particularly a type of American Christianity, that our faith has been reduced to what God can do for me, which is legitimate. We need a faith that speaks to God reaching out to us. But Advent particularly pushes us to see how God is reaching out to others and our world together. I have actually fallen in love with this time because it allows me to look deeply at life in between the world as it is and the world as it will be.
Themes of injustice, oppression, darkness, silence, chaos, and estrangement mark one side of Advent. But themes of hope, peace, love, and freedom mark the other side of Advent. Both must have room to be dealt [with] honestly in such a way that we do not become [too] triumphal in thinking that all is right within the world but also not [too] cynical to think that nothing will be alright at all. So this season creates a space for the integration of two worlds colliding at the place of meeting between God in victory and humanity in hurt.
“Only Christ can turn our wounds into worship, our anger into activism, our prayers into power, and our darkness into deliverance!”
I would venture to say Christians in some sense need Advent to push us to do three things:
- Honestly narrate our world from the perspective of those with their backs against the wall.
- Hopefully narrate the liberating and loving action of God in a world filled with brokenness.
- Invite Christians to spy out places where joy is found and participating with God in building the loving and just kingdom of tomorrow in the world today.
All of this only makes sense if the Crucified Risen Messiah Jesus is our goal and standard for this type of patience and prophetic stance. Only Christ can turn our wounds into worship, our anger into activism, our prayers into power, and our darkness into deliverance!
What do you hope readers will get from your devotional? What are the main points or emphases that shaped how you wrote this devotional?
Stewart: I personally want the readers to know that each morning that I went into my study, I took them, their hopes, their problems, their predicaments, and their dreams with me. I believe there is something for everyone there. I want [them] to know that I tried my best to see that any and all who picked this work up would feel seen, heard, and deeply loved. Indeed for me, it was a labor of love. Secondly, I want the reader to know that I was writing with a particular person or people in mind. I was writing for Black people, to Black people, and about Black people and through us, to the rest of the world. I believe that theology is always bound to history and context, and like Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, we need to be asking, “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” That is not to say that we want to deconstruct or distance ourselves from any type of deeply theological or philosophical reflection of the ministry and message of Jesus. There is a place for that. It is to say that the question of Jesus must be particularized to a historical and social narrative in order to see and know what the ministry and message of Jesus has to say to us about God’s redemptive and revolutionary action in making all things new.
For me, the question was, what does Jesus have to say through and to Black people in the context of the history of injustice and racism in America, and how can we converse with other Christian traditions in shared speech and shared action in building the kingdom of God? That was my starting place and ending place. I want people to see God at work within our narrative. It is not that we are less than when it comes to theological reflection or social practice. We are very much here because we have had the audacity to survive and through our survival to bear witness to the goodness of a Risen Savior and the legitimacy of resurrection power. In this devotional I think people will see that. I also wanted people to be exposed to a broad range of Black engagement with the world and how such engagement aids the task of doing theology and being Christian in America in 2019 and beyond. Doing this task should walk the line between prophetic vision, spiritual sustenance, pastoral reflection, and political practice in such a way that tells people comforting things needed to keep them going but also challenging things that keep them active and aware.
There is the literary, theological, artistic, socially critical, and many more traditions in my work. The Black tradition has so much to say about the themes of hope, peace, love, and freedom as well as the lack thereof and I wanted to invite myself and others into a conversation around the campfire. This means that for my work, I wanted to lead people into a faith formation and integration that is culturally relevant, socially conscious, historically rooted, theologically diverse, and politically democratic. All of this finding its goal in bearing witness to the living Christ who is active right here and right now. So for me, if people can be pushed more into the heart of Jesus and his ministry and message, if people can be pushed deeper into the life of our world, if people can reach out to their neighbor in love after reading my work, then I can say I have done a job well done. We need people today trying to creatively re-imagine and constructively re-narrate the faith that has been passed down to us in ways that are faithful, fruitful, and functional to the time we are in. This was my starting place in that work and this was my goal in inviting others in. I think, by God’s grace, this will be accomplished as the reader finishes the last word.
Treviño: My hope is that readers will see the importance of how closely related Jesus’ miraculous birth and His family fleeing as migrants for safety are. Jesus’ birth and the theme of immigration are closely related as we see in the Christmas story found in Matthew 1:18-2:23. For far too long, Jesus’ migrant story has been overlooked, either unintentionally or intentionally. However, in our country today, this cannot be overlooked anymore and must be acknowledged and taught about in churches, small groups, Sunday school classes, living rooms, and everywhere else Christians reside.
The main points [of the devotional] are Jesus’ miraculous birth and shortly after His family fleeing as migrants to another land from the potential persecution of King Herod. I use these main points as a springboard to talk about different passages of Scripture throughout the Bible from an expositional position, then apply each passage to immigrants, asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees in our day.
I came to make the Advent devotional on the topic of immigration because it’s closely tied to Jesus’ miraculous birth in Matthew 1:18-2:23. In my study, Jesus’ birth is of utmost importance, but the story is not finished in Matthew 1:18-25, but rather continues into Matthew 2:1-23 when Jesus’ family flees as migrants to safety from King Herod’ plot to kill Jesus. When you take time to just read Matthew 1:18-25, the story itself feels incomplete — as if you must continue reading to understand more of the Christmas story as whole — and this is no coincidence. I firmly believe God sovereignly breathed out the words of Jesus’ Birth and His family fleeing as migrants through the author, Matthew, in such close proximity that we would not read them as two different stories, but as one Christmas story.
“When Christians think of Advent, they should think of Jesus’ migrant narrative and then be compelled to think about immigrants and migrants who need love, care, justice, and the gospel in towns, cities, and along the Southern Border.”
This reality alone should compel Christians to not only remember the anticipation of Jesus’ miraculous birth or the anticipation of His second coming, but also His family as migrants fleeing to another land for safety during the Advent season. When Christians think of Advent, they should think of Jesus’ migrant narrative and then be compelled to think about immigrants and migrants who need love, care, justice, and the gospel in towns, cities, and along the Southern Border. Pastors should be compelled to preach from the pulpit about Jesus, the brown-skinned Savior, who was born in a manger, became a migrant child shortly after, and then years later died on a wooden cross and resurrected from the dead for His chosen people — the Church. As Christians approach Advent, we should see the Jesus born in a manger and the Jesus who was once a migrant fleeing persecution with His family.