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Juliet Vedral makes the case that the life and faithfulness of Mary Magdalene are a witness in this Advent season of light breaking through darkness and hope appearing where it’s least expected. Vedral spoke to Elizabeth Tabish, an actress from the television show The Chosen who plays Mary as a woman recovering from sexual assault and mental illness.

Rose Marie Berger, a senior editor at Sojourners magazine, reflects on Advent as a time of waiting. During Advent, we wait for something that is coming — we prepare for an arrival. We think of it as a joyful season, a season of sweet anticipation. But Advent is also a season of fasting, of hunkering down, of stripping away what is known to prepare for what is unknown.

In this issue of A Public Witness, Brian Kaylor introduces us to 10 gifts the proud “Christian Nationalist” on your list will love. But please don’t buy these unless you want to end up on the naughty list (and make the baby Jesus cry). Instead, these gift suggestions show us what it can look like to merge Christian and American identities in problematic ways.

Andre Khudyakov, a Ukrainian Baptist pastor, reflects on how we tend to read the Bible as stories about what happened centuries ago as well as descriptions of events that will take place far in the future. So, we place ourselves in a “safe zone in the middle” and we become like observers and commentators of biblical events from the past and those in the future and we never allow our minds to embrace its relevance to our lifetime.

With Christmas approaching, Christine Trotter explores part of the story that is usually omitted: Mary travels from Nazareth to Judea to visit her relative Elisabeth, an older woman who speaks prophetically to Mary and informs her that she is pregnant with the Lord. Trotter outlines what else we know about Elisabeth, why her character is frequently left out of the Christmas story, and why she should be included as a prophetic voice.

For day 2 of our Unsettling Advent devotionals, Rob Schenck reflects on reading New Testament Advent story against its historical backdrop: An aggressively militant imperial occupier had invaded the ancient Levant, annexing it and subjugating various nations, bringing sorrow and suffering to countless peoples. Sound all too familiar?

For day 1 of our Unsettling Advent devotionals, Brian Kaylor reflects on the importance of learning from those who have lived under authoritarian occupation like what is happening today in Ukraine.

Contributing writer Sarah Blackwell writes that in our country, we often think about pilgrims in the way that our Thanksgiving traditions teach us — that it is all about the destination. She has always relished pilgrimage stories and dreamed of lacing up her own shoes and traveling by foot to the sacred spaces of her faith. But recently she realized there was nothing stopping her from being a pilgrim within her own hometown.

Contributing writer Rodney Kennedy offers lessons we can glean from the upcoming Georgia runoff election. He argues that the Social Gospel, “the politics of Jesus,” needs rediscovering. In this recovery, it will not be about whether Warnock or Walker wins the Senate seat. The Social Gospel will not center on how people vote but rather on how the church takes the opportunity to be an alternative to the politics of the world.

Pastor Dawn Darwin Weaks explores what it was like for a once large and vibrant church community to decide to make a major change. With only a few dozen active people left, they made the choice to relocate, rename, and relaunch together. Before the 116-year-old congregation gathered for worship in a new space, they performed one last ritual in order to truly let go.