Last Wednesday, protesters in downtown Chicago started pulling lights off the city’s newly-lit Christmas tree. Marching to decry the death of Laquan McDonald at the hands of the police, they broke through the barriers around the tree and pulled down strands of lights. “This is part of the problem,” they said.
Halfway around the world, the Vatican had unveiled another enormous Christmas tree less than a week before. As the holiday season began in that city, Pope Francis proclaimed, “we are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees… It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace.”
This is not a happy time for my city of Chicago, or my world. The festive trappings that drape downtown are no balm for the deep pain, anger, and fear of living in times such as these. And as the circumstances surrounding Laquan MacDonald’s death finally come into the light, it calls Chicago not to celebrate, but rather to mourn and repent. In this season, the city Christmas tree cries “peace” when there is no peace.
In the Christian liturgical calendar, this time of year never really was about making merry. It is the season of Advent, when we sit in the darkness and the mess and ask what it means for light to come into this world. What shadows need dispelling? What truths need revealing?
Pope Francis and the Black Lives Matter protesters offer a challenge that will be my meditation this Advent: what charades of peace need to be torn down in the name of real peacemaking?
One reporter called the protesters’ actions “violent.” Other sites referred to them as “savages.” These epithets are absurd. Pulling lights off a tree is neither violent nor savage. Yet their response illuminates the nature of real peacemaking. Charades of peace paint over injustice and pain with an illusion of wellness. Real peacemaking tears through the illusion and exposes what lies underneath. For the one who believes in the illusion, real peacemaking looks like violence, savagery, and troublemaking.
If this Advent is to be truly a season of peacemaking, it will need to be a season of tearing down. Tearing down the false solidarity that leads those with power to hide the injustices of others with power. Tearing down the false compassion that does not reach beyond boundaries of race and religious tradition. Tearing down the false justice that kills innocents as recompense for killing innocents.
It will not be easy, and it will not be comfortable. But nothing less can bring about the peace of Christ, the promise of Christmas. Tearing down charades of peace is our work of preparation. It is the reason for this season.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.