In light of disturbing news flashes from Ferguson, Oakland and other US cities, what does one say about Advent, this sacred season in which we wait – with anxiety, hope and wonder – for the transforming presence of the Word made flesh? As we seek to celebrate this baby, born to peasant folk, in an obscure Palestinian village, yet who comes to save the world, how will we also mourn the tragic loss of life on the mean streets of our cities? How will we pair Zechariah’s prayer of blessing with the outrage of grieving fathers or Mary’s song of praise with wail of grief‐stricken mothers?
If you move in any of the same circles as I, your social media outlets and television screens have been flooded with news “coverage,” op ed pieces and laments in the aftermath of the grand jury decision in the case of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. The struggle for me has been to understand the depth of the rage without letting that cloud the crying need for change in the social order. Where will the demonstrators and the pundits be when the tear gas clears, the smoke settles and the broken glass is replaced? Will it be business as usual, one more opportunity for transformation drowned in feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that overwhelm people of good will everywhere?
I have shared this before but it bears repeating, perhaps every year as we approach Christmas. It is from a Christmas card produced by the Fellowship of Reconciliation back in the ‘60s. The cover has the image of child of color, sitting naked in the dirt, tears streaming down its face. Inside, the greeting contains these words from Thomas Merton,
Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of person, who are tortured, bombed and exterminated. With those for whom there is not room, Christ is present in the world.
I suppose these words were penned during the Vietnam War, yet they ring true today when we consider the proliferation of refugees, the debate about immigration in this country, the “New Jim Crow” and the deep‐seated institutionalization of racism in our social order. Once again, the Christ enters this world in which there is no room. That is to say, we sing our carols, decorate our space, join in the feast, sentimentalizing the sweet little Jesus child and leaving no room for that baby’s power to transform us or our world.
My friend Betty Wright‐Riggins, posted this comment on Facebook, which raises a crucial question for people of faith as we once more enter the season of Advent, to watch and wait for the birth of the Christ. She says, “I, like many, am saddened and yet not surprised by the results of the grand jury in Ferguson. Wondering how do we minister with great hope to so many who are hopeless. This sense that the lives of our people and other persons of color are ‘less than’ is gaining credibility. A community leader in Ferguson last night said, ‘People across this country will see all of this violence and anger seemingly out of control behavior and dismiss us. But this is what hopelessness looks like. When your voice refuses to be heard.’” I imagine the leader is referring to Martin Luther King Jr’s observation that “A riot is the
language of the unheard.”
The unheard, the unseen, the unwelcomed – with Betty I wonder how we minister with great hope to so many who are hopeless. How do we let people know that they matter, and I don’t mean just shouting the watchword but preparing the way for that word to become flesh and dwell among us. Betty concludes her comment by quoting Richard Rohr, ʺWhen all appears to be out of control, thatʹs when God does a new thing.” Do you think so? Can you see it, feel it, touch it, taste it – God’s new thing coming among us, not so much in power and glory as in grace and truth? Betty urges us to “pray for the ‘new coming.’ Let us pray, our eyes wide open to see God in the midst of all of this chaos.” And if we see, let us also follow, dig in, get to work to bring in the justice‐bearing, peace‐making, relationship‐building of the God’s beloved community – in Ferguson, Oakland and our own backyards.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
born to set Thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in Thee.
But before we rest, let us find first our hope, our peace, our justice, our joy, our compassion and our love in you. Come, Christ, set us free and transform our lives as we seek to serve you and walk your way. Amen.