“My soul glorifies the Lord […], for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me…” Luke 1: 46-49
It has been a strange year for all of us. It has been a tough year for most. It has been a downright forgettable year for some. Whatever group we find ourselves in, 2020 will be a memorable year.
Most of us will have a moment or two that brought it home that this was not going to be an easy year. For some, it might be the start of the first lockdown, for others it might be something even more heart-breaking like the loss of a loved one. Personally, my shock moment occurred sometime before COVID-19 became the dominant feature of our lives and the public murder of George Floyd triggered the avalanche of Black Lives Matter (BLM). It was towards the end of February when a friend forwarded to me a video of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, 2020. We all now know how this 25-year old African American was killed by two white men – a father and a son – whilst a third white man recorded the whole incident.
It was a brutally surreal watch! I remember sitting in my little apartment in Stellenbosch and feeling too powerless to even be angry. It was not so much the killing of a black man that upset me; such things are commonplace. It was the casual display of power; the swaggering certainty that a white man can kill an innocent black man and get away with it.
Fast forward to now! I am back in the UK. I am home and I should be safe. Except that I feel anything but. Not because of COVID-19 and scientific evidence that BAME people are more likely to die of the virus. It is a real threat, but it does not make me feel overly anxious. What makes me feel unsafe and insecure is the lingering feeling of ‘second-classness’. The killing of the likes of Arbery, Floyd… and the subsequent BLM movement in its British iteration have driven home an uncomfortable yet undeniable reality: I am black. As such, I belong to a people who find themselves on the wrong side of the traffic and dispensation of power, rights and privileges. As a naturalised British of African extraction, I have not always been aware of my blackness as a cause of concern. Besides, in all truthfulness, I have never been victim of racial injustice that I am aware of. The undeniable reality I speak of frightens because of potential rather than actual harm; if I look at things from an individual point of view. From a group or collective standpoint, the picture is different altogether.
In this time of vulnerable self-awareness, I found renewed meaning and comfort in the Christmas story. My comfort does not however come from promises of power because unto us a son is given. Solace has rather been found in solidarity with the two women who are central to the story of Christmas: Elizabeth and he cousin Mary (Luke 1: 25; 46-49). Both women; one baren, the other a teenager, in a patriarchal nation, dominated by the might of the Roman Empire. Second-classness and powerlessness was their daily lot in this particular social and political context. ‘Disgrace’ and ‘humble state’ surely came with their cohort of prejudice and pain. That until the Lord decided to do the things that catapulted them at the heart of a new world order; a New Covenant.
There is quiet certainty and understated agency in the gratitude and praise of these women. Immanuel is the thing that God did with and through them; and what a great thing it was. Even as I type these words, there is a creeping smile on my lips. I want to believe and confess that this Christmas, there is a thing the Lord can do about the disgraces that Black Lives Matter has highlighted in our society. I am going to dream of a Black Christmas; one that is unlike any we have ever known. How else can we colour Christmas in the wake of BLM? In my imagination, a post-BLM Black Christmas is not dark, ugly or a narcistic flight of fancy. Nay, it is a beautiful celebration of sisterhood and brotherhood, of community and national rebirth. For nearly nine months, men and women of all races have impregnated the streets of our country with a possible ideal: that we can be a nation of justice for all lives, beginning with those that have mattered less. We can be a land where all generations will be blessed.
The Mighty One can do this great thing for our communities. Gloom for the oppressed can disappear and honour can return in these isles. Light can pierce the darkness. The borders of our hearts can be enlarged. The yoke of privilege and the rod of injustice can be shattered.
“The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people” Luke 1: 25