Advent is one of my favorite times of year. I love the music and the progressive lighting of the weekly candles. I love the themes of waiting, of preparing, of expecting. We wait for Jesus’ birth at Christmas, and we wait for God to come into our lives today.
Waiting, I have realized, is a privilege. When I have waited for things in my life (opening Christmas presents, having a birthday party, receiving college acceptance letters), I have known exactly what I was waiting for and more or less when I would receive it. I have never had to hope and wait endlessly for an unknown arrival date. It is easy for me to preach patience because mine has never truly been tried.
When Martin Luther King, Jr., was imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama, he received advice from some pastors who, like me, had never had to wait for something they truly needed. King responded,
I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” …when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”; then you will understand why we find it so hard to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the blackness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
When I consider this kind of forced waiting endured by King and all the African-Americans living under segregation, the unrest in Ferguson and around the country following the death of Michael Brown makes a little more sense to me. I cannot excuse violence, but I can begin to see that waiting is no longer an option for people who have felt the “stinging darts” of racial profiling, of Driving While Black, of a society that assumes they must be up to no good, and of ongoing tension between police and citizens. I begin to see that I must find a way to shorten the wait. I cannot live in a world where my sisters and brothers are valued less or treated with suspicion simply because their skin is darker than mine.
Advent may be about waiting, but some waits have lasted long enough. When it comes to civil rights and basic human dignity, there can be no more waiting.