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The activism of advent

I was in the dark balcony trying to keep Rosie’s squeaky boots and screechy yells from bothering people, but thankfully it was blending in with the rest of the sound. The song O Holy Night, famous for its squeaky renditions, is hard to sing along to, but in a busy Christmas Eve service, it all kind of mashes together.

On screen, hand-lettered lyrics showed a third verse I hadn’t noticed before:

“Truly He taught us to love one another
 His law is love and His Gospel is Peace
 Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
 And in His name, all oppression shall cease.”

My wide eyes were drawn in to the words. With Rosie on my shoulders, I looked around at the dimly-lit faces gathered and singing, and wondered, “Did we all read that same thing? Did you hear that? Are we all in on this??”

Love — as in, some kind of radical unifying force of one-ness that can connect strangers, can ignite romance, can sustain commitment, can conquer bitterness, can accept torture and come out on top? That’s an enormous call-to-action.

And peace — seriously? Peace — that war-ending, battle-subduing, conflict-calming, weapon-lowering, celebration-causing phenomenon. That sense of safety, of unity, of trust, of restitution, of reconciliation. Of things being made right where they haven’t been right. Not just rest, but deep restoration. That’s a ridiculous hope.

And don’t get me started on this next bit. Breaking chains, standing as brothers with slaves, helping oppression case. That’s the work of our Wilberforces, MLKs, Gandhis, Lincolns. That’s an activism that chooses liberation as a mode of being. That’s a refusal to let apathy, consumerism, comfort, contentment, convenience cow me into compliance. That is living life as an awake participant.

I have sheepishly never paid much attention to the words or traditions of Advent. I didn’t know the candles stood for Hope, Peace, Joy and Love until this year. But those four words, those are bust-down-the-doorframe themes.

Love, that’s the relentless force of connection that overcomes hatred.

Peace, that’s the pursuit of true unity even at a deep cost to oneself.

Joy, that’s a contentment beyond circumstance.

And Hope — that’s a sense that true restoration and reconciliation is actually possible, not some kind of ridiculous, far-off dream. The belief that the ending of oppression, the bringing of justice, can actually happen, and that we might play a role.

Christmas? Is that you? At your best, I thought you were generosity and kindness. At your worst, I have truly despised you for your trite sentimentality, your corrupt consumerism, your traffic-jam parking lots, your polished pageantry and hollow religious symbolism, and the empty feeling of disconnection you leave me with as wrapping paper gets stuffed into garbage bags. But Christmas, what I hear you saying is that this is a holiday for activists to rise up and begin anew. To continue in the revolution.

There is much to be done.