Advent 4: No Justice, No Peace

“Justice preserves creation, allowing it to blossom and thrive; hidden within creation, You are the Heart of everything.” Nan C. Merrill’s interpretation of Psalm 97 is beautiful and poetic.  But could be more simply said as, No justice.  No peace.

Joy, Hope, Love, and Peace are so difficult to find.

The isolation that covid has forced all of us has made me really think about the way health care is handled in our country.  Providing a lifesaving vaccine for free feels radical.  A Chatham student shared with me that he was hesitant to get the vaccine because he worried about what his copay would be or if his insurance would cover the cost of the shot.  Good health is only for the lucky or the wealthy in our country.  And yet the church proclaims that Christ came to heal the sick and we will continue his work.  As I recall our conversation, I remember the joy in his eyes when he talked about discovering the vaccine was free.  And maybe that’s the little bit of joy we can hold onto this advent.

The Pittsburgh Chapter of Days for Girls has changed.  Because travel is restricted DfG international has had to find new ways of getting kits to those who need them.  We have become a collection point, so we spend more time on checking, repairing, sorting, and organizing components and kits than we do sewing new ones.  DfG has listed me a special project coordinator.  I forgot about that until the virtual conference.  Probably because it still feels like we lost part of our mission instead of gaining a new opportunity.  We’ve lost the ability to work with the women from the halfway houses.  I believe that we are called to visit the sick and imprisoned and help those in need, but it seems more complicated in this season.  Last week, I talked to my clergy lady group about a man who was aggressively asking for $27, during the conversation we realized someone else had talked to the same man. The conversation moved from a particular instance to how we help people with addictions and other problems that $27 won’t fix and that we can’t fix.  But we can wait and hope for this man and many others to find the help they truly need.  He reminds me of many of the women that came through our doors to volunteer with DfG and this advent I’m praying that their hopeless situations also recover a little bit of hope.

The political and social unrest that has been building over the last decade that seems to have reached a boiling point in the last few years.  We are divided into tribes over political parties, racial justice issues, and women’s right issues, just to name a few that have made my family gatherings awkward this year.  It’s been difficult to follow the Holy Spirit into situations and ideas that make for hostile family discussion or unspoken tension.  I’m learning I have a low threshold for tension, but that it is necessary part of doing what is right.  Being in community with people who disagree is difficult.  As Christians we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  One of the memes that is sticking with me in this season says that to accomplish anything in the Black Lives Matter movement, we must love black people more than we hate the police.  In all things, we must choose love over hate.  In all issues, in all disagreements we must be motivated by love and not by hate.  We must choose love.

It seems to be truer than ever before that we live in a broken world where there is no justice and no peace.  And yet, this is the world Christ chose to enter and we are the people Christ chose to co-create the reign of God in and through and with.  

But trusting that God can work in and through and with us, even amid our short comings (real ones and perceived) is difficult.  This is where we rely on the precedent of hope that is established in our scriptures, in the story of the people of God, and in the little glimpses of God we see as people who are watching and waiting for the in-coming reign of God.  

I’m having a harder time finding peace this year, but this week’s lectionary text is Mary’s Song or what could be retitled as Mary’s prophecy for God’s justice and social revolution.

Luke begins the gospel with the silencing of powerful voices and the amplifying of the voices of two women. When the birth of John the Baptist is foretold, Zachariah is rendered mute and it is Elizabeth who must give voice to what God is doing, and more than that she embodies the message and the messenger, her body responds to God’s plan as it forms the one who will cry out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.  The baby dancing in the dark waters of Elizabeth’s womb will baptize the repentant to prepare the way for his cousin still being formed in Mary’s womb.  The silent work in one womb recognizes the silent work in the other.  And from this quiet, without the words or presence of fathers, from this quiet the mothers speak of blessings and the new world to come.  Elizabeth, full of baby and full of holy spirit loudly exclaims “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would bea fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:42b – 45).  

And it’s not in the text, but those of us who know the song can hear the unspoken words here.  Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us.  Mary, tell us what God is doing in you, sing that song we know, our favorite song, remind us of God’s promised salvation.  And she does.  The Magnificat is the response to the Ave Maria.  

Mary’s song is not a brave new idea, but it is the song the women of God have been singing and teaching to young girls like Mary. Amy-Jill Levine reminds us that, “Mary sings not only of divine glory; she sings also of ancient promises of social revolution.  She sings the songs of Miriam and Deborah and Hannah, but in a new key for a new time.”  (p. 16)[1] I love the sentiment of singing the old song in a new key and for a new time.  The ancient promises of social revolution are made new again.  Mary is expecting God to once again bring down the mighty and uplift the lowly.  Mary knew how hard participating in the work of God was for the women who sang those songs before her.  And she knew it was worth it.  

Mary’s song isn’t just an ancient song made new in her time; it is made new again in our time.  We can experience these small in-breakings of the reign of God if we watch and wait.  

The truth is that if we’re watching and waiting, we can see small steps towards justice and peace happening around us.  The mighty are being brought down.  The lowly are being lifted.  Justice and peace are entering through the cracks of our broken world.

I read ‘Baptized in Tear Gas: From white moderate to abolitionist’ by Elle Dowd during advent and participated in a book study.   I also had the opportunity to hear directly from Rev. Dowd in a zoom meeting and as she talked about working for justice and peace for the people of Ferguson.  I could see more in-breaking of the reign of God in her book and in our discussions.  It is interesting to me how much of our advent liturgy revolves around the reign of God being aligned with justice and peace. God became flesh and dwelt among us in a world that lacked justice and peace. The reign of God is marked by justice and peace, and those of us who take seriously our task of co-creating the reign of God on earth, must also take seriously the task of establishing justice and peace for everyone, especially the oppressed, and in the U.S. that means justice for black people. 

Elle Dowd explains what is meant by the popular chant ‘no justice no peace’ in demonstrations in Ferguson and throughout the country, “White people tend to take that statement as a threat by mentally inserting a conditional “if-then” statement: ifyou do not give us the justice we seek,then we will destroy your peace. That is how I used to hear it too. And for some Black people, it may mean that, and that feeling is more than justified. But for the Black folks I met in the streets, this chant is less of a threat than a statement of reality. …. If there is no justice, there can be no peace. This lack of justice has brought on a lack of peace. Unless there is justice, how can we be at peace?” pp. 50-51

Unless there is justice, how can we be at peace? Unless there is justice and freedom from oppression, how can we understand the promises of God in Exodus 19, Psalm 97, and Luke 1: 46-55? Can we take the message of the prophets Miriam and Mary seriously if we leave out their message of justice? Unless there is justice, especially for the oppressed, how can we honor the Advent/Christmas story? Unless there is justice, how can we proclaim the indwelling reign of God?

I’m still looking for peace in what is left of this advent season.  Because of Mary’s song and Rev. Dowd’s book, I know that I need to be looking for justice if I am going to see peace.  The lack of justice has brought on a lack of peace. 

Holy God, bring us justice, bring us peace.  Hear our prayers and help us to be an answer to our neighbors’ prayers. Amen.

Benediction:

From Nadia Boltz-Weber

[Is it]

Hail Mary full of virtue, the Lord is with thee?

No. Hail Mary, full of GRACE, the Lord is with thee, the prayer goes.

Grace.  The one thing you simply cannot earn.

I think that this is exactly what Mary understood: That what qualifies us for God’s grace isn’t our goodness – what qualifies us for God’s grace is nothing more than our need for God’s grace. 

I hope so. Because I just can’t manage to muster up a yes to what seemed like God’s conditional maybe toward me.

But God’s yes about me, for me, and toward me? That different. 

That’s a useful miracle.

So, I won’t say that I hope this season is merry. I won’t say that I hope it is happy and bright. But I will say this: I hope you hear a divine “yes.” this season. 

In other words, may your soul feel its worth.


[1] More of my thoughts on this passage can be found in Mary knew and she still said yes which was inspired by Amy-Jill Levine’s “Light of the World: A Beginner’s Guide to Advent” (referenced in the paragraph above).

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