The 33

On August 5, 2010 a mine shaft caved in at a depth of nearly 1,000 feet in the San Jose mine, 500 miles north of Santiago in Chile. Thirty three miners were trapped below. The recently released movie “The 33” is the story of these Chilean miners who spent 69 days trapped underground in 2010 before their spectacular, and globally televised, rescue. The film stars Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips. Juliette Binoche and Gabriel Byrne. It is based upon “Deep Down Dark”, the book about the incident by Hector Tobar. The movie was shot in two real salt mines in Colombia.

The director, Patricia Riggen, wanted people to be engaged, to feel what it was like to be down there, what it was like to have a family member trapped inside. She wanted them to feel like all the characters in this story. One of the messages of the movie is faith, believing. She said that if you lose your faith, you have nothing. The same thing applies to those above ground. Those families never doubted that the miners were alive, and that was key.

New cave-ins complicated attempts for a direct rescue through a ventilation duct. Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said that the chances of finding the miners alive were slim. 12,000 people die of mining accidents each year. After 17 days a drill probe reached the miners and a message was sent from them that they were all well. They begged to be rescued soon and received first supplies via a pipeline. They were told that it could be months before they were rescued. The miners moved camp to a drier, cooler site deeper inside the mine. Rescuers started drilling a 12-inch pilot hole, aiming for the shelter. On September 18 a second drill reached the miners, but its 1,070 foot hole had to be widened. On October 9 the main rescue shaft broke through to where the miners were trapped. Some 69 days after their ordeal began, the first miner, Florence Avalos, was pulled to the surface in a specially designed steel cage winched up through the rescue shaft. “We always knew we would be rescued.” Mario Sepulveda, the second miner rescued said shortly after he emerged. “We never lost faith.”

People around the world followed the ordeal and the dramatic rescue of these thirty three men. We imagined ourselves in their position, trapped underground, yet able to communicate with the world above. We were inspired by their positive attitude, their smiles, their self-discipline, their organization. Their team leader kept them together. They cared for one another, and did not seek selfish advantage. They did not deteriorate into a dog eat dog, every man for himself rabble. What would we have done in their situation? How would we have held up? The same questions confront us in our daily lives. We live in two worlds: one on the earth, and the other above where we are urged: “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:1,2) How we act in this world tells us a great deal about waiting for the world above. We need a word from above to encourage us to keep faith.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in an Advent sermon, used a mine disaster as an illustration of the Advent message.

“The moment even the most courageous miner has dreaded his whole life is here. It is no use running into the walls; the silence around him remains. The way out for him is blocked. He knows the people up there are working feverishly to reach the miners who are buried alive. Perhaps someone will be rescued, but here in the last shaft? An agonizing period of waiting and dying is all that remains.

But suddenly a noise that sounds like tapping and breaking in the rock can be heard. Unexpectedly, voices cry out, ‘Where are you, help is on the way!’ Then the disheartened miner picks himself up, his heart leaps, he shouts, ‘Here I am, come on through and help me! I’ll hold out until you come! Just come soon!’ A final, desperate hammer blow to his ear, now the rescue is near, just one more step and he is free.

We have spoken of Advent itself. That is how it is with the coming of Christ: ‘Look up, and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’ (Luke 21:28) Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are heavy and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. Something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you. God will come.” (God is in the Manger, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 40,41)

We all need to be rescued, saved, redeemed. None of us can rescue ourselves. We find ourselves in a condition that is beyond our ability to save ourselves. Life is too much for us. The world is too threatening. Circumstances are beyond us. Our physical bodies decline and deteriorate. The economy of the world is too uncertain and unstable. Doom and gloom surrounds us.

Jesus spoke truth to us about our situation and our rescue: “On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint with terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. …Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch and pray, that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:25-36)

The good news is that rescue is at hand. Our redemption draws near. All is not lost. We always know that we will be rescued. We should never lose faith. It is always the darkest before the dawn. We may think that there is no help to be had. We have reached a dead end. There are no other options. Death stares us in the face. Despair beckons us, and wants to take over. Panic threatens us. We feel that we are lost. We echo the words of the psalmist: “Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord…I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope…O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” (Psalm 130)

When Jesus, as an infant, was brought to the Temple by his parents to be presented, there was a prophetess, Anna, who never left the Temple but worshipped day and night, fasting and praying. She was very old. Coming up to them she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.  (Luke 2:36-38) In every generation there are those who look forward to redemption, rescue. She always knew she would be rescued, saved, redeemed. She never lost faith. Her God came to her, for her.

No matter what age you are, what condition you are in, however desperate your circumstances, or what you have done or failed to do, whatever cave-in you have experienced in your life, however deep the pit you find yourself in: “Look up, lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” The Son of Man is coming for you, to rescue you, to draw you out of the pit into the light of everlasting day. He came from the world above, he burrowed deep down into our world, to rescue us and bring us home. Welcome him. Wait for him. Release yourself into his saving embrace.