Hours after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who murdered Eric Garner, the City of Philadelphia lit up a Christmas tree. Normally, it’s a festive event – this year it was interrupted by protestors. It was a strange juxtaposition: Bundled up toddlers standing alongside outraged activists. Holiday decorations upstaged by signs begging “Stop Killer Cops” Carols drowned out by chants of “Hands Up: Don’t shoot!”
It’s always interesting to me when terrible stuff happens around the holidays. Objectively, tragedy is tragedy no matter when it occurs. But whenever something bad happens this time of year – when our society is trying to focus on things like peace, joy, family, and generosity – it stands out a bit more and pulls on our heartstrings a bit harder.
Like most other Americans, I’m still processing everything that’s happening in our country. I’ve gotten into a pattern where every couple of hours I remember what’s going on, and the people who have been hurt, and the conversations that we’re (finally) having, and I’m actually overwhelmed by grief. What we are dealing with here and now, is an issue so ingrained, so complicated, so longstanding, and so destructive. Our society has been trying to figure out race for well over 50 years, and when I think about where we are now, I’m almost embarrassed because where have we really gotten in that time? (Oh my God, where did we start?)
And then I notice the tree in the middle of my living room, and realize that even when the world is at its merriest, this a season of fallenness.
But this is Advent. This is when we try to imagine what it was like to wait. We try to imagine what it was like to feel distant from God. We try to imagine what it was like to be oppressed and longing a savior. I used to appreciate Advent because it was a time to reflect on the plight of the Israelites and the meaning of Christ’s birth and life. Now I’m finally realizing that even after the incarnation, even after Jesus showed us what it means to be truly human, and even after he conquered death and promised redemption, we are still in plight, and we are still waiting. We’ve seen a great light, but we’re still walking in darkness. The season of Advent lasts four weeks, but this time we find ourselves in – this weird and hopeful time between Christ’s first and second comings – is a persistent, daily Advent.
Scripture promises that God will make everything beautiful in its time. Beautiful in a way that body cameras, gun laws, media, and education can’t even touch. This Advent is overwhelmingly sad, but it is not without hope.
[Image: Protestors at City Hall on Dec. 3, 2014. Credit: Philadelphia Magazine]