what the ferguson and eric garner cases are teaching me about advent

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We spent the weekend decorating our sanctuary for Advent. We used the more liturgical colors: pinks, blues, but mostly deep, dark purple. The color is a sad one. We often use it in the church during the Lenten season, and it is associated with penitence, fasting, lament, suffering. I used to have some misgiving about this, as I’m one of those people, overeager to put up a TREE and LIGHTS and MUSIC and CAROLS and PRESENTS and CIDER as soon as possible. Purple ruins the fun. But this year, as I hung long panels of crushed velvet on our sanctuary wall, I felt a twinge of relief. It made more sense to me this year than any year.

I suppose this naturally happens as you get older, as days begin to mean a little bit more and weigh a little bit more. But the stories of the killings in Ferguson and Staten Island, the outcomes of those deaths, the backlash and the venom, those things have forced me to consider lament again.

I feel the weight of these things. I feel compassion for a mother who has lost her son, and for a man whose life is changed forever because of the violence he’s perpetrated, and for a community enraged, and for someone who feels her only option is riot and unrest. I feel a longing for equality, for justice, for peace, for life. I recognize a need to feel heard, to protect and serve, to do good, to do better, to feel human, to survive. And in all of it, from every angle, my best response is to weep:

“How long, O Lord?”

Never have I prayed this prayer so often in an Advent season, and I am grateful for purple. Purple doesn’t sweep injustice under anybody’s carpet. It recognizes violence and inequity and helplessness and mourns it. Purple doesn’t pretend. Purple doesn’t rush through to the singing. Purple sits with sadness and holds it and strokes its hair like I do when my daughter is hurt and reminds it of a coming savior, a savior who has always upset our expectations and grand ideas, who came once as a baby king, and will come again as… well, who knows? Because purple is also the color of royalty.

I have a friend in war-torn Palestine, a friend crushed under a mountain of debt, a friend who is caring for a husband with Alzheimer’s. And those are just three. Just three at the top of a very long list of people I pray for, and when I pray, it’s “How long, O Lord?” because that’s the best I know how to pray sometimes. I am out of Ideas for God on How to Solve the World.

It isn’t all sadness, though, because after three weeks of lighting purple candles comes pink: the color of hope. Pink is always peeking out from behind crushed velvet, you know. Pink is even part of purple, half of its very makeup.

And I believe we should prepare for his coming, to live with and expect and brag generously about and impart the pink, to sow seeds of compassion, to stand on the side of the suffering, to be humble and to listen, to love and live in a way that images Christ, to be balm and salve, to give with abandon and sacrifice, to do love as best we know how, and to revise that version when necessary. To be hands and feet of Christ in a world that needs to feel him, in drinks of water or a place to stay or an awkward side-hug or a meatloaf dinner or a protest march.

Because Advent gets us ready for Christmas, and I believe with all of me that our God is with us. It is the meaning, the very meaning, of Emmanuel.

Our God is with us.

I want to breathe that, in and out, until Christmas.

And on Christmas,

I will sing it

with the angels

that fill up

the sky.*

*I have had Ellie Holcomb’s song “Hope is Alive” on repeat in my house for the last two days. She sings truth, and you should download it and put it on repeat in your house, too.

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