Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once offered these words of reflection,
Despite the fact that all to often people see in the church a power opposed to any change, in fact, the church preserves a powerful ideal which urges people toward the summits and opens their eyes as to their own destiny. From the hot spots of Africa to the black areas of Alabama, I have seen men and women rising and shaking off their chains. They have just discovered they were God’s children, and that, as God’s children, it was impossible to enslave them.
The church preserves a powerful ideal which urges people toward the summits… When we are Church at its best we realize that this ideal is neither of our own making nor of our crafting. We neither own nor control this message, in fact, as its servants we realize that we have been entrusted with it solely in order to be good and wise stewards (of whom there will be an accounting one day). This ideal – the proclamation of being sons and daughters of God – is not a hope invented but rather a hope received.
John the Baptist throughout his life and proclamation knew this distinction and it was based on this awareness that he condemned the religious authorities of his day who lived on the illusion of controlling the way to righteousness. John knew the source of the Kingdom – it did not lie within the control of the religious establishment nor did it lie within himself and his own charisma – it lay within God’s action and God’s movement. The Kingdom was grounded in God’s prerogative. “I baptize with water … the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…”
The season of Advent invites us to recognize the true source of the “ideal” that we hold and proclaim as Church. It is not a hope invented but a hope received. If it were invented then we would be the most pitiable of people. God has chosen to move specifically within human history. God has come to us. Only in the realization of this amazing truth is it possible to sing, “Justice shall flourish in his time and fullness of peace forever.”
The recognition of hope received though does not lessen the responsibility on our part as Church. Isaiah’s prophecy and description of the Anointed One also contains within it our mission as Church as well. As we receive; we are to proclaim. As we know; we are to live.
They had just discovered they were God’s children, and that, as God’s children, it was impossible to enslave them.
Hope received, not invented, is the Advent proclamation and it is the source of the beauty of peace.
I have seen men and women rising and shaking off their chains – they discovered that they were God’s children.