Imago Adventus – 09 – Prison

Genesis 37: 3-4, 31-33; 50: 15-20
The brothers killed a young goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in its blood . They sent the beautiful robe to their father with this message: “Look at what we found. Doesn’t this robe belong to your son?” Their father recognized it immediately . “Yes,” he said, “it is my son’s robe. A wild animal must have eaten him. Joseph has clearly been torn to pieces!” . . . But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said. So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you —for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said. But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”


Voskamp walks through the Joseph story focusing on how God can take difficult, bad, painful, hurtful things and can use them for good. Honestly, this devotion did not resonate so much with me until I got to the last quote in the chapter…from Dietrich Bonhoeffer…

A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes . . . and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.

I read that yesterday morning and it continues to resonate strongly with me now 24 hours later. I think of the prison cell that Bonhoeffer waited in until his death just before his prison was liberated in 1945. I think of the prison cell of Nelson Mandela and others on Robben Island as they awaited freedom both from prison and from apartheid. I think of the many others, including people today who protest against injustice and evil in the world. And seeing that out of those cells can come liberation.

But I love the connection that Bonhoeffer makes here to Advent. So often in this season, we want to just get right to the Christmas celebration. We want to skip the darker stories, the preparation for the birth, even skip singing some of the Advent hymns and jump right to Joy to the World. However, this is not the story that God lays before us – its not the story that was laid before Joseph. Its not the story that was laid before Mary or Joseph or Elizabeth or Zechariah. Advent is the time to prepare – just as a parent has to wait for a child to be born, so we must wait (as difficult as it can be at times) for the child to be born.

This picture was taken in the Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh. I was struck by the ways that you see through these doors all the way to the final room where one would go out to the courtyard. I wonder how many prisoners saw down this path and hoped, longed, cried for freedom…

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