“He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” (Luke 1:52)
Where I grew up in the rural Midwest there was an expression of love that people would regularly invoke if you were about to drive somewhere on winding country roads: “Watch out for deer!”
And if someone wanted to get more specific in their advice, they would make sure to admonish you not to swerve if a deer jumped out in front of your vehicle. By the time you swerve, the deer is already somewhere else and you will either hit it head-on or careen off the road.
I didn’t think much about this common wisdom until an instructor I had in divinity school pointed out that steering toward the deer could also represent something deeper that translates to some of the issues we face today.
If we conceptualize the deer as representing a problem — be it racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. — the way to make it through safely is not to swerve to miss it but to steer right towards it.
When we attempt to avoid it, the problem does real damage. But if we confront it directly, we can potentially make it past the situation in one piece.
We see a lot of people today who would rather swerve to avoid problems, whether it is panic over grappling with the racist history of our country or making even the most minimal sacrifices to end the pandemic. The idea of confronting problems truthfully and rigorously is unsettling, especially to those who have benefited from the status quo in the past.
This advent, we reflect on the arrival of a baby whose birth threatened those occupying powerful positions in an oppressive society. A messiah who centered caring for those who comfortable people would rather not think about.
Perhaps God drawing closer to us in Jesus exemplifies a divine choice to steer right at problems. God saw our plentitude of human shortcomings and instead of navigating away moved directly towards us.
Truly grappling with oppression should be unsettling to all of us. But swerving away from it will only make things worse. Steering towards the deer will keep us all driving where we need to go.
Jeremy Fuzy is the voices editor at Word&Way and a Ph.D. candidate at the Missouri School of Journalism.