Saturday, December 20, 2014



Thursday night we had our school’s annual Christmas Program, a service of readings, songs, slides, brass music and congregational carol-singing. The program traces the story of salvation history from creation through the final coming of Christ, with, of course, a lot of  emphasis on the stories of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. The final song of the evening, which we’ve been doing for about forty years now, is a triumphant choir and brass arrangement of a song called “King of Kings.” The final lines are:

“He’s the King of Kings, He’s the Lord of Lords!
He’s the Master of Everything! Let Him be adored!

After the program we decided to leave the bright red cloth hanging on the front of the podium along with the dozen poinsettia plants because the auditorium was scheduled to be used the next night for a prayer vigil for the victims of violence in Newark. Mayor Ras Baraka had asked us if we would provide the use of this space. (I think I’ve mentioned before that people on the city see us as a special place, spiritually serious but politically neutral, and so will sometimes ask to use our facilities for meetings that require a neutral site.)


So, last night I found myself back in the same auditorium with the red cloth draped over the front of the podium and the red and white poinsettias brightening the stage. But this time the mood was different. About a dozen clergymen were sitting up on the stage along with the Mayor. Each clergyman got up and prayed a spontaneous prayer, some for healing the hearts of the bereaved family members who were present, some for peace in our city, some simply for an end to the senseless violence that is killing our young people - a number of whom were simply caught by accident in the crossfire of a drug dispute that was being settled with automatic weapons wielded by kids too small to aim the guns properly.

The names of the dozen young men (and women!) killed in just the past few months were read, and a small bouquet was formally presented to members of each victim’s family.

After the vigil was over, as everyone was filing out, you could easily pick out the special women, the ones carrying bouquets that reflected the permanent scars of grief and loss in their hearts. Those flowers must have seemed terribly heavy in their hands.


It occurred to me how different this night was from the previous night’s celebration of Christ’s total victory. The red flowers and the red hanging were no longer Christmas crimson but martyrs’ red, the color of kid’s blood spilled on our streets.

What a grim reminder that we’re still living in a time of waiting for the Lord to come! Sure, He’s already walking among us, he has already conquered sin and death, but tonight in the center of Newark this little vigil service was truly an Advent service reminding us that we still need to pray “Come Lord, and do not delay.”  

To the grieving women carrying those bouquets it must seem that the Lord is already too late in coming. Let’s pray for them and the parents and families of victims of violence everywhere, that they won’t lose hope but may rather keep praying with perseverance, “Come Lord, and visit us in peace!”


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