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Marching Into Advent

Marching Into Advent
The season of Advent started yesterday, which brought the return of beloved Christmas carols in church. Christmas lights started popping up throughout the neighborhood the last couple of nights, bringing joy in the cold, dark nights. Yesterday afternoon, I headed back to church for another event. I joined an opportunity to pray with my feet, which felt like an appropriate start to this holy season.

Faith Voices for Jefferson CityMissouri Faith Voices, and other groups sponsored a march from First Baptist Church of Jefferson City to the Missouri Governor's Mansion a few blocks away. The focus of the rally and march was to come together to urge peace, justice, and equality in the aftermath of Ferguson. The failure to indict should serve to indict the so-called "justice" system (as I argued earlier). Before we marched, four clergypersons and two other community activists offered brief remarks standing in the parking lot of First Baptist. Just hours earlier I had attended an Advent worship service in that building. The speakers stressed messages that resonate with Advent: longing for hope, peace, joy, and love.

Reverend W. T. Edmonson
Reverend Jim Hill
Reverend Cassandra Gould
Then we marched. The hundred or so of us walked through the cold to express our faith with our feet. When we arrived at the Governor's Mansion, we stopped for prayer. Then we headed back to the church parking lot. Though the timing of the march coincidentally aligned with the start of Advent (since the timing was chosen as merely the first Sunday following the news of the non-indictment), marching to critique injustice fits nicely into the Advent message.

The prophets who predicted the Messiah's arrival did so in the context of of lambasting injustice and corrupt leaders. Jesus arrived in a context of injustice and corrupt leaders, as seen most tragically in King Herod's slaughter of children (a part of the Christmas story we usually leave out of our happy pageants). Jesus often challenged injustice and corrupt leaders with his words and deeds. The story of Christmas is not merely about a nice spiritual afterlife. Christmas is a message of hope, peace, joy, and love that we must live out right now in our society. So we marched.

The march sparked a couple of protesters. A white man and woman held a tone-deaf sign at an intersection. They claimed African-Americans lose credibility by not admitting "the plain truth about Ferguson" (although many of the marchers were not African-American). Not sure what they think "the plain truth" is in such a messy case. Rather than hearing the pain of their neighbors, they judged them. Rather than trying to understand their neighbors' perspectives, they blindly assumed our justice system always brings justice. A marcher walked over to dialogue with the couple so hopefully the civil interaction helped bring some understanding. Another white man yelled at us just after a prayer at the Governor's Mansion ended. He again failed to understand the concerns as he suggested the group was anti-police. He presented a false choice. To seek justice in one case does not make someone against the police. Hopefully the ideas of the march will be furthered by news coverage from KRCG-13, KOMU-8, and the Jefferson City News-Tribune.

As Reverend John Bennett led us in prayer at the Governor's Mansion, several uniformed officers stood on the grounds of the Mansion watching over us (and others sat nearby in cars). The surge in security surprised me. Did they really expect trouble from us? If so, this prejudging response to a group of clergy and other concerned citizens suggests a troubling divide in our society. As I drove by the Governor's Mansion today, the crowd of officers had left. Instead, a crane lowered a large Christmas tree onto the grounds. The contrast in scenes starkly captures the problem. We want to decorate but not act. Too often, we make Christmas about just being happy for heaven instead of trying to end hell on earth. Let us not just sing Christmas carols, decorate pretty trees, and enjoy flashing lights. If that's all we do, we strip meaning out of the season. Instead, we must take Advent to the streets and live out our faith.


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