This is a portion of Bernadette Arthur's December newsletter for Canada. Sign up to receive full-length Race Relations newsletters below!
Just like that and we are approaching another Advent season, siblings. Advent marks a time of both celebration and mourning, a time of remembrance and hopeful expectation. A bit of a teeter totter.
The communal Advent practices of remembering, celebrating, mourning, and anticipating prompt me to consider how those themes have showed up over the last year in the work of racial justice and equity in Canada, especially in regards to the Body of Christ living out their call to be ambassadors of reconciliation.
Join with me as I remember 5 moments in 2018 that had me celebrating, mourning, and/or hopefully expecting God’s kingdom come and will be done in the work of biblical justice and racial righteousness in Canada.
- We remember the sacrifice of Viola Desmond, a Black Canadian woman who at the age of 32 stood up for the rights and dignity of Black Canadians, and by extension all human residents of this northern part of Turtle Island.
- Canada celebrates her courage and honours her legacy.
- Earlier this month, PM Trudeau apologized for turning away Jewish refugees fleeing persecution and annihilation in Europe.
- The apology acknowledged that this rejection of Jewish refugees helped Hitler to make his case for the genocide of Jewish people. Since other countries wouldn’t take the Jews, he argued, Germany was left with no other choice.
- As part of his apology, he promised that the federal government would do more to protect synagogues and other places of worship.
- Bernadette Clement won election in Cornwall, outside of Ottawa. She is the daughter of an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago.
- One of her central campaign promises was the redevelopment of Cornwall’s historic port area on the St. Lawrence River, as well as early consultations with the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne.
- During the horrific 1994 genocide of Tutsi people in Rwanda, some Hutu people risked their lives to stand up for their Tutsi sisters and brothers. These are the people that Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton chose to highlight in a recent photo series.
- One story that particularly struck me was that of a Rwandan pastor in Kigali who saved 300 people in his church: “When I look back, I believe the genocide could have been stopped if more pastors had taken a stand. We were the ones with influence. The killers belonged to our congregations. And we could have held them back. But instead we did nothing. And every pastor had a different excuse. Some said they didn’t know things would get so bad. Some said they were too afraid. And some said the government was too powerful to oppose. But when you’re standing aside while people die, every excuse is a lame one.”
- Romero was murdered as he celebrated Mass on March 24, 1980, in a hospital chapel. He had enraged El Salvador’s leaders in a series of sermons against the army’s repression of the Salvadoran people.
- This year, he was finally canonized by Pope Francis.
The act of remembering or looking back so that we can rightfully anticipate our future reminds me of a word used by the Akan people in West Africa: Sankofa. This wisdom principle teaches that we must understand what lies behind us so that we can move forward in full potential. This Akan concept resonates with the symbolism of Advent.
We look back and celebrate: “for to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV).
We celebrate because Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection mean victory from sin, death, and the grave (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). We celebrate because His government is founded on righteousness and justice and His reign is characterized by steadfast love and faithfulness (Psalm 89:14 and Jeremiah 9:24). When we look back and remember, we see that the plan of salvation and redemption is indeed Good News for all of creation!
We mourn with hopeful expectation, because the Creator of this world endured the shame of the cross and died a brutal and unjust death for the sake of of love and the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). We mourn all the ways that religious institutions and political empires walk in the footsteps of those of in Jesus’ time. The political and ideological wars that they wage continue to have disastrous and even fatal effects on those who bear the image of God.
Yet we mourn with hopeful expectation, because Christ has invited us to be co-labourers in His work of redemption and reconciliation.
We mourn the ways that we continue to see the effects of sin today: wars, famines, fires, earthquakes, forced displacements, division, and strife. We mourn the ways that we as followers of Christ are drawn to participate (whether in ignorance or in full knowledge) in acts that bind rather than set free (Galatians 5 and Isaiah 58).
We mourn, but we mourn with hope—hope in the second coming of Christ, who will redeem all things and bring all nations together at His throne.