One year ago today, I stood on holy ground.
I was in the city of Erbil in the Kurdistan Autonomous Region of Iraq. I had gone to Kurdistan to see first-hand the situation on the front-lines of the work among refugees that had fled from Mosul, Sinjar, Kirkuk, and other parts of Iraq and Syria.
In our orientation to the city, our host had taken us to a site where two weeks before a car bomb had gone off and a number of people had been killed. I stood in silence–fighting back tears–as we listened to one of the guards tell us about the car, and the bomb, and his friend who had died in the attack. I watched as he knelt down on the pavement and pointed to a small piece of metal. “There’s part of the bomb,” he said.
It was in that moment that I knew I was standing on holy ground. Ground where people had had their lives stolen from them.
I whispered a prayer.
The only prayer that I could find to pray in that moment.
Kyrie eleison. God, have mercy.
As we walked solemnly back to our car, along the foundations of the Citadel of Erbil, I took in the sights and sounds around me. Life still going on. People still shopping in the bazaar. Taking photographs beside the fountains.
It’s a bit like Advent.
We wait and hope for a better King.
A better Kingdom.
And, while we wait, life goes on around us. Millions not knowing that this King has already come. That this King has set in place His Kingdom. And, that–someday–the Kingdom will be full and beautiful and glorious and nothing will be missing and nothing will be broken.
War will cease. Devices used to bring destruction will be turned into tools to bring life. Lions and lambs will lie together in the cool grass.
And, yet, the message of Advent is that we’re still not in a fulfilled Kingdom. We long for it. We hope for it. We pray for it. We yearn for it.
And, we work towards it. What if the Prophet Isaiah wasn’t just dreaming when he said that swords would be beaten into plowshares? What if he meant for us to do the beating?
It is between these two things that we are stuck. The promise of a new Kingdom, and the birth of the new King. Somewhere, we find ourselves in the middle of it all.
How do we balance between the two? Between the yearning for fullness of the Kingdom and the pain of living in a world of not yet. A world of pain and struggle and illness and war and car bombs.
I left that crater in the road knowing that I had stood on holy ground. Sacred space. I had been face-to-face with mortality and fear and death. But, I got to walk away.
I don’t understand why some of us get to walk away and why others don’t. I don’t understand why some of us get to go on with our trading in the bazaar and taking photos at the fountains. I don’t understand.
But, I know that Advent is here. The hoping. The waiting. The longing. The King is coming.
As I sat in the hotel that evening, I searched for words to put to my feelings and thoughts. I looked for something to say. But, was left with nothing but “Come, Lord Jesus,” and that old Leonard Cohen chorus, “Hallelujah.”
And, it is with those words that John ends his Revelation. The Beast of the Empire has been defeated. The King of Kings and His new Kingdom are fully realized. And, John writes:
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! — Revelation 22:20 (ESV)
Together with John and with the guard in Erbil and with the families and friends of those killed that day and with all the saints and angels we proclaim: “Come, Lord Jesus!”