Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, faith, God, Inspiration, Jesus, Peace, Religion, Spirituality
In August of 1987 the Philippines president Corazon Aquino raised gas prices, a move that deeply affected the countries poorest citizens. General strikes were called and much of the urban areas came to a virtual standstill. The political tide seemed to be turning away from Asia’s first female president and democrat who followed after the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos’ presidency. The situation was ripe for change.
Within a week of the general strikes 800 Filipino soldiers loaded into military vehicles, driving in the dark of night and separating to attack numerous targets throughout Manila. One such location was the residency of President Cory Aquino. Thinking that their soldiers would have the element of surprise against the 18 month old President’s security detail these rogue soldiers tried to take over the premises. They were unsuccessful, but in their wake Aquinos’ son was severely injured and three of his bodyguards lay dead. Reporters and civilians were wounded and killed as the pro-government forces chased the coup plotters through Manila’s streets.
The rebels, however, did have success in taking over the television station, part of the airport and a key military base in Manila. In the second largest urban area, Cebu City, a sympathetic general flew the Philippines flag upside down in defiance of Aquino’s government. These set off a week of chaos until the pro-governmental military was able to regain control of its base and communications.
So, what does this small Filipino history lesson have to do with the beginning of Advent? What does this minor historical event mean in a search for the one occupying a Bethlehem manger? In my personal case a whole lot. These events have had quite a profound impact on my view of the prince of peace. While this scenario played itself out I was a 17 year old traveling on a mission trip from Hong Kong and China to spend my final two weeks in Manila and Cebu City, Philippines.
Coincidently, my time in the Philippines was parallel to these historical events. When Aquino raised the prices of gas that caused a nationwide general strike I was with my mission team in a small village outside Cebu City leveling ground for a Christian school. Since a rebel fighter had been captured in the adjoining village it was felt it was not safe for a large group of Americans to be exposed to the possibility of kidnappings. Everyone agreed that we should be evacuated into the city, but how? The Jeepnis were not running because of the general strike and it was feared that we would be stuck in this dangerous place for quite some time.
In a small village by the ocean a tribal leader assured us that they could take us by boat following the shore, but by a stroke of incredible luck we found a driver willing to return us to Cebu City. Padlocked into the back of a mesh encased Jeepni we stood still in a gigantic traffic jam often ducking out of the site of men milling amongst the cars with machine guns.
When we returned to the church we were staying in Cebu City we were told that we could not leave it at all. It was too dangerous. When the time came to leave Cebu City we were hustled to an old Japanese cruise ship that functioned as a ferry between Cebu island and Manila. In it 3,000 people slept in every imaginable space and livestock made loud noises throughout the night. In the middle of that 12-hour ferry ride the coup began. We knew because it was announced over the boat’s speaker system. We were terrified, but our fear was small compared to the people that surrounded us. Tears and concern for what everyone would find when we docked in Manila was all around. Since the rebels controlled the news we thought that our boat was entering a city at siege. Our group had an increasing fear for our own personal safety.
When people streamed off the boat and we were hurried into a van. The American Embassy was appraised of our location as we turned into a nearby the hotel which would be our residence for the next few days. The next morning we watched news reports showing tanks and military vehicles droving right in front of our hotel. They were moving toward the base that was occupied by rebels. As the government regained control of the rest of the city we finally left the hotel and within a few days were safely on a flight out of the country.
When I think back what I remember is both personal fear and the visceral fear on the families that I traveled with on that boat into a port of uncertain safety. The specter of violence became personal. It was something experienced and encountered. It was not something that showed up on the nightly news as a 30 second clip, but happened to real flesh and blood humans.
In this morning’s text the prophet Isaiah dreams of a place of peace, a land where violence’s dark, painful instruments are beaten into something productive and useful. This text is placed at the beginning of Advent because it is believed that the culmination of hope for peace will be come from a child in a manger.
It is not in the cold, calculating political phrasing that we begin our movement toward the manger this Advent season. We do not herald the prince of peace using synthetic language like limiting collateral damage, successful surge, damage assessment, air strike or casualty status. Nor do we naively wander into the nether regions of utopian idealism when discussing the inner cravings for peace that comes with active faith. We are called as followers of a human to think of peace in raw personal terms.
Iraq can seem so far away, Sudan a place of little impact on our lives, Palestine is not a prime vacation spot so these conflicts can become two dimensional and lifeless. Yet, each bullet that rips through flesh, each shard of shrapnel that renders someone limp, each casket lowered into the crease of broken sod touches at the very core of humanity. From every soldier to every civilian each is a victim from our human family. This morning we commemorate the mere hint of hope that tragedy and calamity will be turned so that peace will be more than something that brings inner calm, but resonates in our living lexicon. Maybe someday our neighbors, neighbors, neighbor will sleep without the rumbling of tanks, gunfire in their streets and the fear that their father will be taken from them. It is good during advent to uphold peace and to look squarely in the face of an infant to find it.
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