Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, the week when the church transitions from waiting and longing to celebrating and rejoicing the birth of Christ.
Today is also Black Lives Matter Sunday, a day to bring attention to the disproportionate number of black lives that are lost every year. A day to acknowledge the systems and structures that still give power to the powerful and oppress those who are already oppressed. Several Christian denominations have asked their congregations to wear black to honor Scripture when it calls us to “mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)
As I put on my black dress, I couldn’t help but wonder at the timing. What an odd tension- a Sunday that is both for mourning and rejoicing. Some would find this to be awkward or even a little macabre. But I wondered if this was the perfect illustration of the tension we feel being part of God’s now & not yet Kingdom. It goes without saying that there is much for us to mourn this Advent season. How are we supposed to rejoice in the middle of such pain, dysfunction and suffering?
Yet we see glimpses of God’s good and right Kingdom among us. The amusement of listening to a Children’s choir sing holiday songs with off-pitch abandon. The joy in workplaces closing, even if just for a few hours, helping us to slow and receive a much needed rest. The contentment that comes with Christmas treats enjoyed over endless cups of dark and bitter coffee. God calls us to celebrate even in the middle of despair.
This morning, I felt that tension keenly. Clad in black, I half-heartedly sang along to exuberant carols, Hark the Herald Angels Sing then The First Noel. While the worship team led with enthusiasm, raising their hands and smiling broadly, I struggled to continue standing. Admittedly, “Black Lives Matter Sunday” was not solely why I was in this state. While I desired to act in solidarity with my friends of color, there were other reasons for mourning. I have much to be grateful for but struggles with physical and emotional health have left me feeling exhausted and depleted this Advent season. How can I rejoice when life feels so heavy? So unmanageable?
God answered my questions with a simple song sung by Mary, often referred to as The Magnificat. Even in the midst of uncertainty or perhaps even fear or doubt, Mary rejoices:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46-55)
During the sermon at church, our pastor mentioned that Mary’s song was a song of joy but also of protest, He has brought rules down from their thrones but lifted up the humble. Mary doesn’t ignore the injustice and pain around her, rather she acknowledges it and testifies to the truth that the child she carries will be the one to bring true justice, true restoration, and true peace.
So today is a day to both mourn and rejoice. To live in the tension of God’s now and not yet Kingdom. To acknowledge and bring attention to the sin and decay in our world. But also to cling to hope and proclaim God’s goodness.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5)
Father, we acknowledge that this day holds both sadness and joy. How do we handle this tension? How do we walk with you in both gladness and mourning? Show us your Way. Like Mary, may we acknowledge the ways this world is not how you desire it to be while holding onto hope that you will one day restore and renew all of us. Help us to believe that on the other side of our poverty is your Kingdom and that on the other side of mourning is comfort. Help us to see Your goodness and continue to point the world to You. Amen.