Want reasons for the restoration of the penitential Advent? Surf to the PBS News Hour website and click on its Nov. 23 broadcast. Watch the segment entitled, "Iran Cracks Down on Dissidents, Human Rights Attorneys, and Journalists." Behold the microcosm of twisted humanity -- complete with perverted, wrong-is-right ethics, evil rulers who think they're good, and imprisoned innocent mothers. Stop this world. I want to leap off and land in a universe where love is not just a word in a bar-room pick-up line.
Among other things, the story featured Nasrin Sotoudeh, a brave Iranian lawyer who defended protestors involved in her nation's 2009 Green Movement. One of her clients was a 17-year-old boy accused of political activity against the government. He was hung at the age of 20. The regime arrested Sotoudeh and sentenced her to 11 years in prison, which an appellate court reduced to six years. Her children can only see her through a glass on their rare permitted visits. Such harassment compelled her to launch a hunger strike in October and she's lost 95 pounds.
It's all so vomit-on-the-floor ugly. Any decent person knows that Sotoudeh is "good" and the regime's thugs are "bad." Genuine justice would swap shackles, with Iran's leaders viewing their country's pistachio farms through the slats in their cell widows. She'd stroll with her kids. But wrong is right and right is wrong; lies are deemed true and truth is a lie; justice is traitorous and the true traitors wear robes.
Her story forces me to see the preciousness in the quiet of the traditional Advent, originally conceived as a season of prayer, fasting and confession. We purge ourselves of this world's assumptions in preparation for the Feast of the Nativity, or Christmas, when a baby violates our expectations, inverts our norms, sets things straight, makes "truth" true once more and trades power for love as our operational motif. The all-powerful being shuns coerciveness. God brought his reality -- his Kingdom -- onto the Earth in weakness, insulting tyrants in the process. Sotoudeh -- and all who love justice -- are everyday people in this alternative universe. There are no threats and power-plays. There's no need to leap. Iran's rulers, for all their religiosity, would fear such an existence as their personal Hell.
Can we be still during this Advent? Can we repent (which means to change our minds)? Can we see that we need outside help like the people of Iran need the international community (maintain those sanctions, please)? Can we see that its twisted government is an extreme form of a pervasive coerciveness throttling our species? Employers compel us to lie; congregations force their pastors to evade the Bible's inconvenient truths; spouses pit themselves against their mates; some clergymen abuse their people; politicians live for campaign donations and transform our nation into a plutocracy. Can we grasp how the modern Christmas season's freneticism buries the richness of a quiet, contemplative Advent? Can we immerse ourselves in the genuine alternative universe while we prepare for the grand celebration? We don't have to be ugly anymore.
Perhaps Sotoudeh's defiant hunger strike illuminates the freedom of the original Advent: She refuses to cooperate with coercion. We too can rebel against the greed-is-good creed.
I will remember her and pray for her in this season -- and I pray that she will soon hug her kids.