“and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord (Luke 1:45).”
The tragic killing of New York City police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu and the attempted murder of Shaneka Thompson in Baltimore, amidst the world-wide call for justice by the #blacklivesmatter movement has left many people searching for hope. Isaaiyl Abdula Brinsley’s actions are being interpreted as retaliations for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and used to justify a power contest between the New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and New York’s Office of the Mayor. As difficult as these incidents are to comprehend, we cannot afford to become distracted from the fact that we (all of us) are the hope for justice that we seek.
In the gospel of Luke, between Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary and her Magnificat, lies a verse that is often overlooked in Advent readings. The words are spoken by Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah and mother of John the Baptist. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth said “and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord (1:45).” Because of what Mary believed, she took action – making haste from Nazareth to Zechariah’s home in a Judean town in the hill country (1:39) until it was time to go to Bethlehem with Joseph to be registered per the decree of Emperor Augustus (2:1-7). Mary’s belief-turned-into-action changed the world. Mary gave birth to her firstborn son; the one the angel said would be called the Son of the Most High, the one we know as Jesus Christ. As the darkness of Advent becomes the light of Christmastide, Luke 1:45 begs the question, what would happen if we believed there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to us by the Lord?
What if we believed that every valley will be lifted up, that the uneven ground will become level and the rough places a plain (Isaiah 40:4)? What if we believed that good news will come to the oppressed and liberty proclaimed to the captives (Isaiah 61:1; cf. Luke 4:18)? What actions would we take if we believed what God has spoken to us through our talents, and passions, and gifting – particularly with regard to the witness that #blacklivesmatter? We, in our multiply unique and necessary ways are divinely equipped to be agents of justice, light, hope, compassion, and empowerment. It is the work and witness we are called to as followers of Jesus Christ. Blessed is she, and is he, and are we who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to us by the Lord.
Ours is not a passive, rocking chair, any day now kind of hope. Turning what we believe into action, we will continue to strategize, and march, and protest. We will continue to have hard and honest conversations with our co-laborers, our children, our allies, and allies in training. We will remember and recite the words of great writers, poets, musicians, and artists of our past and our present to affirm that the work before us is difficult but necessary and doable. We will pay attention to how the narratives of victims are told, noting who gets the verbs “shot,” “executed,” “murdered,” or “died.” We will memorialize the names and the circumstances of the fallen; the Black men including the same gender loving and the Black cis/trans*/queer women. We will uplift the families who survive the victims, and hold each other accountable to preach, and pray, and protest for the powerful to be brought down from their thrones, and for the uplift of the lowly (Luke 1:52). We will do these things because we believe in the fulfillment of what has been spoken to us by the Lord. Racism, abuse of authority, mockery of justice, and hegemonic hypocrisy cannot and will not conquer hope, for nothing is impossible for God. God is calling us to become agents of justice.
As the details of officers Ramos and Liu’s deaths unfold, let us mourn the unnecessary loss of lives unfinished. It is a lie that Black and brown lives matter only when uniformed in blue. It is racist to expect hyper-articulated outcries for Ramos and Liu by the Black community when Darren Wilson is let off the hook with no remorse and a handful of police officers don “I Can Breathe” tee shirts in mockery of Eric Garner’s life. As Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Let us remember that Brinsley’s senseless violence began with the attempted murder of Shaneka Thompson, and that our prayers are needed for her recovery. Her attack cannot be overshadowed by grandstanding, war declaring union leaders whose real fight is with elected officials.
Amen I say to you, the Lord’s word will be fulfilled. Good news will come to the oppressed. We will participate in delivering it. Liberty will be proclaimed to the captives. We will participate in the proclamation. We who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes. The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all we who believe shall see it together. #blacklivesmatter #adventofjustice
Eric A. Thomas is a Board Member of More Light Presbyterians. He is completing the second year of study towards the PhD in New Testament and Early Christianity at Drew University in Madison, NJ. He is the Director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, NY and a Candidate for Ministry under care of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.
Photo credit: “The Visitation” by Enedina Casarez Vasquez for Visitation House, San Antonio, TX. Please visit www.visitationhouseministries.org