5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord. -Psalm 146:5-10
I was tempted to simply cite all of Enuma Okoro's words tonight. Her words echoed so clearly and truly inside me that there's really no way I could say it any better. Especially when I consider the crackings in this world — the racial divisions erupting to the south, the frustrations of people of colour in my own country that so often are easily dismissed, the shootings in Pakistan, the traumatized children of Ukraine, and even families in my own little town who wonder where their next meal is going to come from.
Our Christmas, our Advent is often seen and celebrated through our northern-European-lineage eyes. Even if we declare Jesus to have been Jewish or a person of colour, we still have perspectives we sometimes don't even know we have that frame our beliefs with holly… ivy… snow… and plenty of present under our trees.
"Would we think of Advent in a different way if we tried to imagine the promise and hope of Advent from the perspective of someone from a different socioeconomic, cultural, or racial background than our own? How might a congregation of migrant farm workers live and pray during Advent? How might a group of Christian [or non-] inmates at a federal [or provincial] prison pray during the season of Advent? How might the people who live in neighborhoods we try to avoid pray during the season of Advent? These are worthy considerations" (Okoro, p.87).
It's not my wish to ignite heated words or fruitless arguments here tonight; but it seems to me my brothers and sisters of colour to the south are in pain. They are crying out, not only for justice but for affirmation of identity, celebration of culture, and transformation of long-held behaviours that sometimes, as a white person, I cannot see. And, more importantly, when they are pointed out to me, all too often I dismiss them with "facts" or "court rulings" or point my finger at how internal violence is creating "their own" problems.
Elizabeth, Zechariah, John, Mary, and Jospeh all lived in a world where they were repeatedly reminded of their inferiority. They were a lesser people; their lives were forfeit to Rome; and violence was perpetually on the whims of centurions and govenors. Even the puppet Herodian monarchy was against them — its own people — and slaughtered a generation of its own. If anyone could understand the oppression of the Navtivity characters, it would be my brothers and sisters of colour.
Are we too afraid that God will love us less? Are we so concerned that our theologies or perceptions might be so radically changed that we lash out with bible verses and the laws of the land so that our brothers and sisters might just quiet down? Are we that insecure with the agony of our own family that we ignore reality?
Do all lives matter?
Do the lives of people of colour matter?
Simply because one group of family is crying out for relief, release, transformation, and change, doesn't mean we love all other family members less. It means we run to the aid of the hurting, they dying, the oppressed, and the lost. It means we lay ourselves bare and open to the reality that we, too, need to change. The trouble is, we like to picture the hurting and the lost as pretty and innocent. As soon as we find fault with our hurting family members, we become judges and juries… and executioners (in word and deed)… instead of brothers and sisters.
Neither side is wholly right or wrong. If the stories of the Nativity have shown us anything, it's that we run to embrace those who are frightened or marginalized — like Elizabeth does with Mary; we perhaps shut our mouths in order to better listen to God and others — like Zechariah; we look around us, see where we are in the Barrens, and learn what God would have us say to those immediately around us — like John.
There is no easy answer here. There will be no quick fixes. But of this I am sure: there are too many hearts grieving this Advent for children and young people lost to violence; there are too many Christians who make war against each other, trying to drown each other out; and our need for an Annuciation grows deeper.
Call with me, Henri; call with me upon God to speak through His people — ALL His people — the need for love, compassion, listening, and understanding.
Like I said last night, I don't know what to do, or who to be, or how to be. It seems the words I say are all wrong; the actions I take are misinterpreted; the perceptions I hold are scarred with colonial power. How does one release all of this and enter into community as the Nativity characters of old once did?
Until tomorrow, Henri,