No Justice, No Christmas: Why Michael Brown and Eric Garner's Death Make Advent Matter
Here's a piece I wrote that was just published by Sojourner's. ***
This week the streets all over our country have been filled with protesters expressing grief, anger, shock and sorrow that Officer Darren Wilson (who shot and killed the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown) and Officer Daniel Pantaleo (who held the also-unarmed Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold during his arrest) failed to be indicted for their actions.
Last night crowds across the U.S. staged sit-ins and die-ins, clogged bridges and shut down major highways. Many of them chanted, “No Justice, No Christmas.”
No Justice, No Christmas.
At first glance, I agreed with them. Screw it. Let’s just shut it all down. Shut down the bridges, the roads, the rivers, the train stations and the airports. Shut down the mall Santas and the Christmas pageants and the holiday parties and the family get-togethers. And then let’s shut down Christmas itself.
Because who wants to open a stocking filled with candy and socks and lipgloss when the Brown and Garner families will be grieving for their loved ones who are no longer with them? Who wants to sing about joy when our country is feeling so much pain? Who wants to proclaim, “Peace on earth, good will to men” when peace and goodwill are precisely the things we’re lacking right now?
No Justice, No Christmas. Seems like a good idea, right?
Last night, after reading countless articles, watching live news feeds and following the #ShutItDown, #ICantBreathe and #HandsUpDontShoot hashtags that were trending on Twitter, my heart was overwhelmed. I shut off my laptop and climbed into bed, watching a candle on my nightstand flicker in the dark.
“For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Prince of Peace.”
Hundreds of years later, Divine Love arrived as a baby in a barn.
Shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem watched as the sky lit up and angels sang, “Peace on Earth!” And they rushed to the stable to find the Incarnation, swaddled and lying in a manger. Then they ran off to spread the good news, elated that their Savior had been born.
Far away, on that same night, wisemen saw a special star in the sky, and they decided to follow it. For them, the sky did not split open. The angels did not sing. They weren’t blinded by heavenly hosts.
Instead of sprinting to the manger as the shepherds had, the wise men prepared for a long journey. Years later, they arrived to find not baby Jesus, but toddler Jesus. Then, after giving Jesus costly gifts, the wise men had to take the back way home because King Herod was trying to kill them.
I think when people in the streets are saying No Justice, No Christmas, they’re thinking about the shepherds’ experience of Christmas. Choirs of angels, lit-up skies and elation seem inappropriate given the gravity of our current situation.
But the truth is, we need Christmas more than ever this year -- not inspite of injustice but because of it. We need the incarnation of Love in our midst. We need the Prince of Peace to arrive in our world, in our country, in our justice system, in our hearts.
This year many of us will experience Christmas not as the shepherds, but as the wise men. If we have the courage to peer through the darkness, we’ll see Love as a twinkle in the distant sky. We’ll pack up life-as-usual, and pursue it.
It may take a year or two or 10. The journey will be arduous and, at times, even perilous. But if we walk forward together, we’ll find the justice and peace we so desperately need.
No Justice...So Let’s Go Find Christmas.
This Advent, let’s follow the nearly-imperceptible star of hope that beckons us from a great distance. Let’s remind each other that, if we don’t give up, we’ll find the light that darkness cannot overcome. Let’s kneel down and surrender our treasures and our burdens at the feet of Jesus -- the Prince of Peace who promised to take our broken government onto his own shoulders, and carry us home.