A week ago, my wife and I attended service at The Chapel, as we drove home from the service, we discussed our thoughts and a few points from that conversation have stayed with me throughout the week.
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” those are Martin Luther King Jr.’s words from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. They are in reference to the silence of so many white churches throughout the civil rights movement. At South Street these conversations are commonplace. We speak actively about issues of race, justice, and poverty. However as we drove home from The Chapel that Sunday, we were saddened that there was no mention of the Eric Garner case, nor any mention of the continued protests in Ferguson. I was reminded why so many of my friends are so vocal about these issues over social media, there is a large contingent of America that still doesn’t talk about the issues of our day.
The second point of conversation my wife brought up, it was amount lament. The sermon that Sunday focused on the diversity of songs throughout the Christian tradition and Bible. However, there was no mention of lament, even though the Bible has an entire book dedicated to the theme in Lamentations. A Biblical lament is a dour recognition of the wrong and sin that is around us (and in us) and a deep cry for God’s coming and redemptive good.
Although I know many, many traditional Christmas songs by heart (and sing them quite often throughout the season), as I read throughout the Nativity this year, I am struck by the kinds of songs they sang. Prophetic songs that addressed the issues of their day, sad lamentations over grave injustices, hopeful chords sung in deep faith. I think these melodies may be needed today more than Rudolph and Santa Baby.
Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
“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.”
The Angel’s Song (Luke 2:14)
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.
Simeon’s Praise (Luke 2:29-32)
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
And a final Lament… (Matthew 2:18)
A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
As I consider these songs and words, and as we light the Angel candle today on our Advent wreath, I think about the broken places, I consider the hard economic realities that would cause Mary to say, “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” I consider the racial and ethnic realities and tensions as Simeon declares, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles.
I think about the prophet Amos (5:23-24) and his declared word of the LORD,
Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
And that the Angel’s visited shepherds (not kings, nor priests) to declare God’s glory and peace.
But lastly, I think of the town of Bethlehem. That little town that hosted the Savior’s birth, than paid for it with a government enforced infanticide.
Matthew 2:16 — When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Harkening the writer Matthew back to Rachel’s lament, “weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
When I read that I think of Eric Garner’s wife and Tamir Rice’s mother. I have heard them in a few interviews weeping and mourning, and refusing to be comforted because their children or husband are no more. I think of the #blacklivesmatter campaign and the push to recognize (and address) the disparity in policing practices (amongst a great other things that that campaign represents). I observe the contrast of political marches in one part of our country while Christmas concerts occur in other parts.
I know from personal experience the desire to squelch the voice heard in Ramah. Her cry discomforts me. I would rather my days be merry and bright, than hear her somber cry, recognize her real loss, and acknowledge my inability to comfort her.
Stay woke this Advent. Listen to the lament of those around you, and recognize it as one of the songs of Christ.