Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.–Soren Kierkegaard
Five years ago, Christmas day found me cradling a one-week old baby in my arms. A newborn, black baby boy holding all of the promise and hope of the future in his quivering, adorable, needy little body. At the time, I believed that to be the most vulnerable time of his life. But the epidemic of gun violence in our country has disavowed me of this notion.
City streets, classrooms, shopping centers, health facilities, movie theaters and churches are all likely venues for what society calls “random” gun violence. Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, and countless others helped me to understand that with each passing birthday, each passing Christmas holiday, my son’s life becomes that much more vulnerable. Watching and hearing the grieving parents of children killed at the hands of the state or by acts of homegrown terrorism, I can’t help but ponder the hopes and dreams they had for babies who grew up to die too soon. In the birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh, God knows this pain perhaps more intimately than most of us. It is a thread—sometimes thin—that gives me comfort and even hope amidst the tragedies of gun violence, the protest chants of #BlackLivesMatter, and the seeming intractability of racism.
On the days when violence and warfare threaten to overwhelm me, that thin line is a reminder that God is always bringing new life and possibility into places that seem to have been abandoned by hope. It is in looking back from the shadows of the cross that the holy night we’ll soon celebrate finds its real meaning. Like Jesus’ birth, God’s saving work goes unnoticed—at first—by much of the world, but it is happening just the same.
Christmas reminds me of how much God was willing to take a chance on us—on humanity. God loves us enough to enter a world filled with beauty, pain and promise and invites us to do likewise. That is, to take a chance on humanity and believe that the next person who might transform the world might be born today. That person may be the young black man we pass by on the other side of the street out of fear. It may be the person of another faith (or none) that we are unable to see as an ally in the cause for peace. Indeed, the miracle of Emmanuel—God with us—is that the next person to transform a moment, or transform the world could be you or me. With each passing day as my son grows older and steps more fully into God’s full future, this is the thread of hope that allows me to sleep at night and embrace the possibilities of a new day.
The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows is a three-time deputy and serves as the director of networking in the Diocese of Chicago.