By Brent Newberry
As I write, we are awaiting the jury’s verdict in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers. By the time you are reading this you will probably know how it turned out. Almost concurrently, the separate trial of Kyle Rittenhouse has ended with his acquittal for murder. All of this is a backdrop for the first Sunday of Advent that’s so pregnant with hope that it dares us to imagine the impossible—like justice. The evolution to a just society seems so slow compared to the inertia of systemic injustice.
So, we wait.
For one lonely verdict out of thousands, for one note of evangelion amid a chorus of jeers, for any kind of hope that a new reality could be possible.
Advent’s longing is steeped in the hope of God’s power.
It’s not a word progressives love to use, at least not about God. After all, what good is God’s omnipotence if it isn’t wielded against the persistent injustices of our world? So, many of us opt to speak of power in terms of empire and systems of oppression, leaving God out of it altogether. Whether that’s the best framework or not, it doesn’t seem to matter either way. The hard truth about whatever verdict the jury hands down in the coming days, is that on its own, it likely will do little to change the trajectory of racial justice in our nation. Absolutely, a conviction will bring comfort for Ahmaud Arbery’s family, but a conviction won’t bring an end to racism or racial prejudice on a large scale.
So, how are we to find hope in moments like this?
My congregation and I have been trying our hand at redefining power as one way of reimagining God and the implications of being made in God’s image. For instance, instead of merely defaulting to a definition of power as having “control over,” we have expanded our imaginations to think of power as the “potential within.”
Briefly, think of the creation narratives in Genesis. We know the context of this poetry, offered by the people of God as a counter-narrative of creation against the dominant narratives of the empires that held them in captivity. They were doing their best to tell their perceptions about God in their time and place, yet in doing so, they also gave us parameters and permission to do the same in our time and place.
In our era, we theorize about evolution and a Big Bang thanks to the brilliance of scientists. So, what would be an alternative vision about God in our time and place? Sure, an all-powerful God creating everything in six literal days is a little impressive, but what about a God who set within a loud bang the potential for all of life as we know it? Billions of years later, everything we see and know is a result of one cosmic snap. Suddenly the notion of an omnipotent God converts into an image of an omnipotential God in our imaginations.
What does this have to do with the injustices of our society? Everything. Because if we are bearers of the image of God, then intrinsic to our being is the very potential of God to create new worlds and orbits and systems. That’s quite an alternative vision.
What if we think of Sunday morning worship as embodied reenactments of God’s creative spirit and potential within us? We sing hymns somebody wrote, we play notes out of thin air, we preach words that have been weaved together in a particular order for the first time ever (unless you’re plagiarizing…), we smile and wave and cultivate community together—we are creating something new, every single week.
All of it is practice for us as we step back into the world in which we live, not to passively await whatever happens to us, but to actively inaugurate a new vision of God’s intended world that is just and good. We actively wait and long and hope for something more, by using the power within us as individuals and as a collective of potential.
The evolution to a just society is slow compared to the inertia of systemic injustice. The slowness of change doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, nor does it mean that the slowness of change is the right pace. But either way, just as the universe is in a state of perpetual transformation, up to the point we know today, so too, justice and flourishing are perpetually becoming a part of our future as we persevere.
The world God intends probably won’t come to pass in our lifetimes; the cruelty of injustice will continue to rob people of their one chance to live this life. Along the way, we will lose faith and feel as though our efforts are in vain. But when those seasons come, we can rage at the perceived impotence of God’s power, or we can look to the omnipotential of God burgeoning within us, reminding us as Advent does:
Hope is making way.
Rev. Brent A. Newberry serves as the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Worcester, MA. He is pursuing his Doctor of Ministry in Transformational Leadership at Boston University School of Theology, and he is a graduate of Truett Seminary at Baylor University (MDiv) and Mississippi College (BA). Brent enjoys reading, writing, preaching, photography, fantasy baseball, hanging out with friends and family, ramen noodles, and walks with his dog Zooey Deschanel. Brent is an ENFP and Enneagram 4w3.