The Second Wednesday of Advent
PS 103:1-2, 3-4, 8 and 10
Where I come from, we have funny sayings that get us through difficult times. When obviously weary and distraught, my people say things like “it ain’t no hill to a stepper” or “I ain’t no ways tired” or “some days you eat the bear, and other days the bear eats you.” Still, they fight their way through the most trying of situations. That is the spirit of my people—we make it in spite of troubling circumstances and impediments. With my people, the truth is that it is almost sacrilegious to admit that one is tired or weak or vulnerable. We do this to protect ourselves from those who would take advantage of us. Along those lines, among my people, it is taboo to entertain the thought that we may not make it to our end goal. If I asked my elders why they believe so strongly that we will make it, they might respond “because we are the children of the ‘eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth’” (Isaiah 40:28).
As a boy, I was taught that the most egregious sin against the Creator is despair. I learned that it was not just pessimistic but selfish to think that I could be so low as to not rise again. To think in such a way would be tantamount to casting doubt on the omnipotent Creator. Back in my home church, aptly titled “Greater Faith,” I can vividly remember the larger than life Texas transplant and community stalwart the Rev. Joe T. Denman hollering at the top of his lungs: “Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the LORD will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:30)! With a crucifix and picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. hanging on the wall in his background, I had no choice but to believe the Baptist preacher. More than believe, though, I tried to live the words I heard.
Admittedly, these are difficult days. Aside from the fact that it is flu season and papers are due and no one can seem to agree on how to get things accomplished, black youth are dying too frequently at the hands of criminals (some of those criminals have sworn in front of witnesses to protect and serve the youth they have killed) or by way of systems (think health care, housing, educational, and courts) that choke the life out of young black people slowly. When I think to complain about the way my faculty meeting went or that I have to fill out yet another form, I remember that some people--in very close proximity to this campus--are climbing higher hills and fighting bigger bears than I. Some of those people come so close to despair that they strike out and shout to keep away those who would take advantage of them in their state of vulnerability.
Still, they (particularly the young people) believe in the promise of better days. They count on the Creator who “numbers them, calling them all by name” (Isaiah 40:26) because they know that they are valued. Thankfully, unlike man, their Creator pardons all iniquities and redeems their lives from destruction (Psalms 103:3-4). They will, one day, be able to set down the burdens of poverty and race that our society has forced them to bear. In this season, I proclaim for them the words that Jesus once spoke to those who were tired and oppressed: “You will find rest for yourselves” (Matthew 11:29).
Stefan Bradley is currently director of African American Studies Program and associate professor in the Department of History.