“For the third time he spoke to them: ‘Why, what wrong has he done? I have not found him guilty of any capital offense. I will therefore flog him and let him go.’ But they persisted with their demand, shouting that Jesus should be crucified. Their shouts prevailed.” Luke 23:22-23
This morning I went to church to worship a God who knows what it’s like to have a child deemed a criminal, seen as a threat to the state and public order, subjected to a shoddy trial resulting in an unjust verdict, and then killed by the state. Two thousand years ago this was done to Jesus with the tacit acceptance and even support of the socially privileged, some of whom cried fervently for his crucifixion.
We are now in the season of Advent in the Christian liturgical year. This time of year we acknowledge darkness in the world. As the days grow shorter and colder in the Northern hemisphere, our slice of earth tilting away from the heat and light of the sun, we call out for the heat and light of God. We see the shadowy places in the world: the wounds, the injustices, the disease and violence and indifference, and we cry out for hope, love, peace, and joy. With each cry, we are told that God responds, Jesus growing and turning and dropping in Mary’s large belly, preparing to break into this dark world as an answer, reminding us to love our way into solutions to the world’s suffering.
In Ferguson last August, an unarmed son was killed by the state. That morning 18 year old Mike Brown had done something criminal: he had shoplifted. Walking home, he and his friend were stopped by an officer. What happened next is not fully known. There’s disagreement about that, but no disagreement about how it ended. Officer Wilson shot Mike Brown multiple times, and then Ferguson exploded. When the officer was not indicted, the country exploded.
The fuel to the flame grew with the non-indictment in the Eric Garner case weeks later. Garner who was himself deemed criminal for selling loose cigarettes, who was confronted by police and responded angrily, saying “I’m tired of it. This stops today.” Have you watched the video? You can’t unsee it once you’ve seen it. The exhaustion in his voice is like a weight on your soul. He was weary, pleading for an end to the suffocating oppression, suspicion. The cops circled him, descended on him, compressed his chest and put him in a chokehold as he said eleven times, “I can’t breathe,” his arm outstretched, his hand reaching. He died. The cop was not indicted. And the country exploded again, the protests growing. “We can’t breathe,” chanted these crowds.
Something is arriving among us in this country. Something redemptive.
On Twitter and Facebook I have encountered countless voices saying that these dead men and boys deserved what they had coming. He was a criminal, they say to those arguing that black lives matter. Mike Brown was a threat to public order. He attacked like a demon. Crucify him, tweet the crowds fervently, crucify these criminals. It’s an old story. But remember how it ends.
Today I needed to see the Advent candles of hope and comfort blazing, to put my faith in the belief that even as the crowds cry for crucifixion, God is arriving to bring new life and light to this darkness, an answer to outstretched arms and hands up toward heaven. You can see the light building as the crowd of protesters grow across the nation, as their tweets calling us to awake and to love grow louder, overcoming the darkness, ensuring the voice of the oppressed is louder than the crucifixion cries. May the world be changed forever.