“In darkest night his coming shall be,
when all the world is despairing,
as morning light so quiet and free,
so warm and gentle and caring.
Then shall the mute break forth in song,
the lame shall leap in wonder,
the weak be raised above the strong,
and weapons be broken asunder.
- Marty Haugen, “Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn,” ELW 242
The news in recent weeks has been dominated by Ferguson, the death of Michael Brown and the non-indictment of police officer Darren Wilson. Between reports on protests in Ferguson have come reports of protests in other cities, and reports of other instances of police killing unarmed black males.
Officer Timothy Loehmann shot twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland while the boy held an Airsoft replica of a powerful handgun. This week, a Staten Island grand jury chose not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo after he choked Eric Garner to death in July. Both incidents were captured on video. I have been afraid to watch either video.
It feels like a dark night indeed when citizens are taking to the streets across the country, when social media hashtags such as #blacklivesmatter fill our social media, and when citizens and police fear for their safety just walking down the street.
Advent is a season of waiting. How long, O Lord? How long will violence and racism tear our communities apart? How long will media ask us to choose sides between police officers and black citizens? How long will politics and selfishness squeeze empathy and humanity out of the center of our interactions?
God promises something else.
We wait to remember Jesus’ birth, the miracle that an ordinary baby born in the lowliest conditions can turn the world toward God’s reign of love and justice. We wait for Jesus’ return, when God will renew the face of the earth and wipe away every tear from our eyes.
The waiting we do during Advent is not about sitting on our hands. Listen to Isaiah’s words on the first Sunday of Advent, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence… so that the nations might tremble at your presence!” Our nation is already trembling, but for all the wrong reasons.
Or on the second Sunday of Advent, when we read in 2nd Peter that “we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home,” and “while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace.” To hide from the violence in our nation, preserving oneself at the expense of those who work for justice, is not peace. It is fear masquerading as peace.
On Advent’s third Sunday we hear again from Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” Jesus himself quoted this lesson when he publicly announced the beginning of his ministry in Luke’s Gospel.
Finally on the fourth Sunday of Advent we hear Mary’s famous song, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.… He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
We wait for Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-us, who will turn our world of violence and fear upside down. While we wait we read again and again of the radical power of God’s love in Jesus to transform this world, to challenge the powers of sin and isolation that defy God.
At last it occurs to me that while we wait for Jesus to return, Jesus himself is waiting for us. He is waiting for us to ask questions and stand up and to those who would resort to violence. He is waiting for us to do the hard work of reconciliation, to listen to those with whom we disagree, to stand with those who are powerless. He is waiting for us to seek the causes of systemic violence instead of merely reacting to the effects. Jesus is waiting for us to do God’s work with our hands, not just the important charity work we do this time of year, but the work of seeking justice and an end to the violence that falls disproportionately on the least of his brothers and sisters.
We wait for Jesus to break into our world, not just to rescue us but to empower us to actively seek his reign by working for justice.