I’ve been reflecting for several weeks on a growing emotion within me, not quite depression, not quite anger. Today I’m settling on the word despair, the loss of hope. In past years I would look forward in anticipation to the Christmas season — not the shopping, never the shopping — but the moments with family, the familiar music, the events at church. Not this year. I don’t know which weighs heavier: 1) the growing awareness of how our economic structures are inconsistent with true community; or 2) the ongoing awareness of how unwillingness to repent of our racist history and enter into a process of reconciliation continues to result in a life of exploitation, marginalization, oppression, and even death for a large segment of U.S. citizens and the world. Indeed, I’m pretty convinced these are two sides of the same coin. This year, I can not separate the Christmas season, which now is an act of crass commercialism that destroys community, with the words and acts of the man the season is meant to celebrate. Despair, the complete loss of hope, seems the perfect description of the emotion I am feeling, and Christmas is the object of that emotion.
I can honestly say I walked from the car to church on Sunday more out of habit and a desire to see friends than to participate in the worship service that would be the first of the 2014 advent season. Allen Wakabayashi was speaking on Isaiah 11:1-9 (the sermon is available online). I appreciate Allen’s sermons generally because they do not shy away from themes of social justice, but Sunday’s sermon went so far beyond. It was not just instructional, it was a salve for my despair. Not a salve that lulls me into continued complacency, but a salve that heals so as to continue the work to which we are called. Allen highlighted the two aspects of advent captured within the scripture — not just the remembrance of the coming of Jesus in the past, but the coming still ahead. And this coming isn’t to shepherd the select few into an escape pod to a perfect world, but it is to bring the completion of the restoration of this world which has already begun with the first advent. Equally important, he highlighted our ongoing responsibility to daily be a part of that restoration which is centered first and foremost on bringing justice to the poor. Today, that includes dealing with our structures of racism that are bringing about the deaths of Michael Brown and too many others. The service concluded with a communal prayer adapted specifically for the Ferguson context, but could have easily been applied to Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, and the many other black men who have died this year at the hands of white police far more for being black men than for the immediate actions that led to their deaths.
I have no hope for Christmas, and even — I believe righteous — anger towards it. Chris Rock recently reminded us through truthful humor of the reason for the season — to bring commerce into profitability. Allen’s message helped me to recenter on our hope in advent, and in our responsibility to work each day where we are at to be a part of restoring the world through justice for the poor. Indeed, it is our sole responsibility.
Thank you Allen, and thank you TCBC for being a place that supports such conversations even against those who protest such topics are out of place in the church.