Recently I traveled with a group from Christian Theological Seminary to Washington D.C. to join in the “Justice for All” march. It was truly inspiring to witness so many people from so many walks of life standing in solidarity with those proclaiming “black lives matter.” I would like to suggest that this march was an Advent practice.
During this Christian season of Advent , we recognize we are in a season of waiting and anticipation. Christians are, in one sense, waiting and anticipating the coming of Christmas and the festival of Christ’s birth with the hope it brings, but we also are waiting in anticipation for the second coming of Christ.
For many Christians, this means waiting for and anticipating the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom on this Earth.
What does the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom on earth look like? It is my belief that Jesus defined this in the Gospels reading from the scroll of Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
God’s Kingdom breaking into the darkness of Earth looks like justice; it looks like liberation; it looks like healing; it looks like hope.
So Christians in the season of Advent should practice an attitude of active anticipation of justice, liberation, healing, and hope. While Advent is a Christian season, many other faiths have practices and concepts that reflect this same anticipation for humanity to be made whole. This is represented in the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, Zakat in Islam, and so many other rich traditions.
As people longing for justice, liberation, healing, and hope, what are we to do in the wake of current events like those surrounding Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and a tragically long list of victims?
It is my belief that I can learn from my practice of Advent. One of the central aspects of Advent is the action of lighting an Advent candle. My seminary professor, Dr. Allan Boesak, described recently how one Christmas during the apartheid struggle, the act of lighting candles during Christmastime became so much more than lighting a simple candle. Dr. Boesak recalled in our class lecture, “[We lit] a candle in the window, one candle. We said, ‘We will proclaim through that one candle that the light has come and the darkness shall not overcome it.” Dr. Boesak went on to suggest how the lighting of one candle in the window of each house became an act of defiance to the apartheid government, signaling that “light has come.”
Brian Mclaren writes on the Advent season and the tragic part of the Christmas story in which Herod sends out an order to violently execute newborn sons because Herod fears losing his power. Mclaren suggest we “light a candle for the children who suffer in our world because of greedy, power hungry, and insecure elites. And let us light a candle for grieving mothers who weep for lost sons and daughters, throughout history and today. And let us light a candle for all people everywhere to hear their weeping. In this Advent season, we dare to believe that God feels their pain and comes near to bring comfort. If we believe this is true, we must join God and come near too.”
This brings me back to the “Justice For All March” in Washington D.C. It is my hope that each marcher present there that day acted as a candle lit in the window to signify “that the light has come and the darkness shall not overcome it.”[i]
Let each of us in our own ways act as a candle. A candle for hope, a candle of liberation, and a candle of healing.
[i] McLaren, Brian D. We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. New York: Jericho, 2014. Print.
Photo courtesy of the author.