In my church tradition, we have just entered the 3rd week of Advent. In today’s blog I share just a brief excerpt from the sermon which I preached on Sunday. I hope it at least inspires reflection on where we go from here as a nation, as a people and our responsibility in moving forward. I preached:
On this 3rd Sunday of Advent the stories and testimonies of four women have in many ways pricked the collective consciousness if not the conscious of our nation. These women, mothers all—are names that we sadly have become all too familiar with. They are Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon , Leslie McFadden, the mother of Michael, Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric and added to the list most recently Samira Rice, the mother of 12 year old Tamir. To call the names of these women and their sons, is to be confronted with the unsettling if not frightening times in which we now live and thus to be reminded of the ways in which our world is broken, the ways indeed in which the sacredness of our very humanity has been betrayed by our separation one from one another. Yet, it is into this unsettled time of brokenness that this season of Advent comes.
This season on our church’s calendar reminds us that our God is one that is always coming, coming toward us no matter how far we may move away from God. And in so many ways, this Advent of 2014 is like none before it. For as Trayvon’s, Michael’s, Eric’s and Tamir’s mothers reveal to us that there is “trouble in our land,” as it is a land marked with pain and protest, these women also signal to us that this Advent of 2014 is nothing less than a Kairos time.
Kairos is a Greek word meaning the right or the opportune time. Kairos time reflects a decisive moment in history that potentially has far-reaching impact. It is often a chaotic time, a time of crisis, yet it is through the chaos and crisis that God is fully present, disrupting things as they are so to provide an opening to a new future. Kairos time is, therefore, a time pregnant with infinite divine possibilities for a new way of being in the world, a new way of being with one another and even a new way of being with God. Kairos time is a moment in time, if you will, bursting forth in sometimes disruptive ways with the coming God’s urgent call to us— a call to change our direction and to move not away from but toward God and God’s future. And so, in this season of Advent, we are compelled to ask what precisely it means for us to be a people of Advent in this our time of kairos? One who helps us to answer that question is another woman, Mary, as she sings in joyful response to Elizabeth, the Magnificat. . . .
In stanza two of the Magnificat, even as Mary sings of the past deeds of God, she is also singing of the future that is God’s. There is no verse that makes this clearer than the one in which she sings, “God has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich God has sent empty away.” This verse is best understood against the backdrop of the customs of various courts in Mary’s time in which access was denied to the poor because they had nothing to give while access was granted to the rich who came with gifts for their rulers, and who were in return rewarded with not only access to the courts but much largess (this sounds way too familiar). In the Magnificat Mary proclaims that in the future that is God’s court those who are hungry, that is, the poor, those whose hands are empty will be satisfied and filled with good things while the rich whose hands are full of good things will be sent away empty—receiving no more from God.
Now, some have suggested that this verse reflects a great reversal, where in God’s future the rich will be made poor and the poor will be made rich—as the last will be made first and the first will be made last. However, the future that is God’s is not about reversing the world order, rather it is about setting the world which is upside down right side up. Mary sings then not about a reversal but about equity, that is about an evenhanded fairness where all are considered equal and are rendered equal one to another, so the last will be first and the first will be last because in the end such hierarchal distinctions of inequality will not exist—so essentially the first and the last will be the same—all will receive equal justice and thus equitable treatment in the court that is God’s future.
Mary’s sung testimony of the hungry being filled and the rich being sent empty away reflects nothing less than a moral imagination where the world will be set right side up again. And so, what does this mean for us as an Advent people in this our time? It means that we must carry forth into the world as Mary did a moral imagination. A moral imagination is grounded in the absolute belief that the world can be and will be made better—it will be just. A moral imagination envisions Isaiah’s “new heaven and new earth” where the “wolf and the lamb shall feed together” and thus as Mary sang, the poor and the rich shall be made equal. A moral imagination disrupts any notion that the world as it is, it the way it should be or ultimately is going to be. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, the “arc of the universe bends toward justice,” and that justice will be made manifest on earth. It is with a moral imagination that the mother of Trayvon confidently said in a recent interview, “there will be a change because God is going to intervene.” It is no doubt because of their moral imaginations that the women who are the mothers of Trayvon, Michael, Eric and Tamir are able carry forth in the struggle for a change in the way things are.
What does it mean for us to be a people of Advent in this our time? It means that we must carry forth into the world a moral imagination of God’s future and thus to really believe that the way things are is not the way that things are going to be, which means one must act accordingly. We must simply put, live into, and act upon our moral imaginations. This means we are to live proleptically, that is, as if the new heaven and the new earth are already. Thus, our sense of values, our sense of justice and what is right and wrong is not to be constrained by what is, rather it is to be oriented toward God’s future, that is, toward what will be.
In the end, a moral imagination makes clear the sinful nature of the systemic, structural and judicial injustice to which the mothers of Trayvon, Michael, Eric and Tamir bear witness. And so as an Advent people we must break this cycle of sin so to move toward the God who is coming to us. . . . and so it is, to be an Advent people means that each of us, in our own way, in the places in which we find ourselves, must join with the mothers of Trayvon, Michael, Eric and Tamir to make real the song of Mary that “God has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich God has sent empty away.”
Kelly Brown Douglas is the Susan D. Morgan Professor and Director of Religion at Goucher College. Author of several books including Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (Forthcoming Orbis, Spring 2015).