First Week of Advent 2021

Advent is a season in our Christian system of timekeeping when we focus on the “already—not yet” quality of our faith. We make a wreath of greens to remind us of the cycles of the earth, of which we are part, the evergreens whose praise of their creator is unceasing. We set out the four candles so we always know which way we are headed. They are our tiny stars. We follow them through the dark, trying not to lose hold of each others’ hand.

But follow them to what?

At Sojourners in this season we are walking into a practice of “Beloved Community.” And a Beloved Community must be able to carry suffering.

Adrienne Rich, the Jewish-Baptist lesbian feminist radical activist-poet, had this to say about suffering in America in her 1968 poem “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children”:

“Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s language.”

“In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger.”

In the past few weeks, we’ve fought like hell to get Julius Jones off death row in Oklahoma. Snatched from the jaws of death, Julius is still alive. But only at the whim of a white governor who stayed the execution two hours before Jones was due to be killed into a “clemency” of  “life without parole” for a man likely innocent of his crimes. The “already—and not yet” of Advent.

We’ve also watched three trials play out. In Wisconsin, the question people asked was “Can a white boy travel with an illegal gun and intention to kill people at a Black Lives Matter demonstration, kill them, and get away with it?” That’s not the legal question but it was the moral question. And the answer was “yes.” Adrienne Rich says: “In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger.”

In Virginia, white supremacy organizations were forced into the light by a few brave individuals—including folks we know here at Sojourners. Would they be held accountable for wreaking organized domestic terror on the people of Charlottesville and the nation? The civil court said yes, they would be held accountable, to the tune of $26 million. In a country where hate is well-funded, this verdict strikes a blow.

In Georgia, white supremacist vigilantes, wrapped in the racist impunity of small-town corruption, were found guilty of the murder of Ahmad Arbery by a nearly all-white jury. The conviction hung on the hubristic video taken by one of the plantiffs. This is the “already—and not yet” of Advent.

This is the landscape of our Advent journey. The news the angel brings is always only partial.

The angel of justice sweeps her sword slowly across the field of history.

But we are here. We light our first candle. We reach out in the dark to take our neighbor’s scarred or frightened hand. We form the circle of the Beloved Community. And we walk forward saying “yes” to what God is asking of us.

Breathe in and breathe out. It’s Advent.

–Rose Marie Berger (delivered as a reflection to Sojourners staff on Nov. 30, 2021, with reading of the Annunciation in Luke 1:26-38)

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