Growing the Light: Advent Reflections on Farmworker Justice — Week 2

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This Advent, join unwavering allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Rev. Brian McLaren, Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis in preparing to grow the light of farmworker justice throughout the new year. The season of Advent draws us into a time of anticipation and preparation with all who long for release from oppression. Through the Fair Food Program (FFP), the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, together with student and faith allies, kindles the flame of justice for farmworkers in the tomato fields of Immokalee and now on farms across seven states.

Preparing the Way for Justice by Traci Blackmon

Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ, Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO and supporter of The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ, Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO and supporter of The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)

Luke 3:1-6 ESV

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, of and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Luke’s beginning litany of leaders does more than provide a chronological timeline for John the Baptist’s ministry. By the time the gospel of Luke is written all seven of the imperial, regional, and religious rulers named in today’s text are dead and, with them, many of their oppressive decrees.

This would not have been lost on the readers of Luke’s day, nor should it be lost on us, that any claims to authority these rulers may have made during their reign were not ultimate, and their perceived power was always limited by the authority of God.

This point is further emphasized by the fact that, in spite of the listing of those in perceived power at the time, the writer of Luke follows the roll call with the assertion that the word of God does not come to any of them but rather to John, one who has no position of authority.  It is not imperial leadership that commissions John into service; it is God. Luke 3:1-6 situates John the Baptist as a prophet bridging the gap between the Hebrew prophets of old and Jesus, the promised prophet to come.

Given this connection it is no surprise that the word of God comes to John “in the wilderness.” The wilderness is relevant to the ministry of John. He does not just appear in the wilderness. Scripture suggests that John’s strength and spiritual maturation are actually developed there (Luke 1:80).

In this way, Luke is not presenting this historical context for the sake of locating John and Jesus in world history.  Instead, Luke is reinterpreting for the reader of that day the history of the world in light of the story of John and Jesus.

And what does this mean for us?

It doesn’t take much effort to imagine our world as a wilderness. Scarcity, isolation, inequity, hunger, and violence seem to rule the day. The oppressive pain and injustice around us can make us wonder whether God is still at work. But Luke suggests that this wilderness is precisely where God provides what we need, so that we can now be the ones “crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’”

Preparing the Lord’s path means challenging systems and structures that we have institutionalized as normal but that God condemns as oppressive and crooked. It means clearing the path of self-aggrandizement, self-absorption, and greed to make way for a community where all of creation is valued. As we look to the example of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, it means pointing the way to human rights for farmworkers and demanding that corporations follow their lead.

And as we prepare the way, as we continue to clear the path, we will not only believe but - scripture says - we will begin to “see” the salvation of the Lord.

We will the taste the sweetness of fruit harvested by farmworkers laboring in fields free of abuse. We will see the Lord’s salvation in the healing of wounded spirits and the equity of provisions and fair wages for our labor. We will see hope for our future in the dreams of our children.  And the tyrannical power of Empire will be overcome. The way of the Lord is a pathway to peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of justice and love. Let us continue to cry out, preparing the way of the Lord.

Prayer - Holy One, In the midst of our wilderness experiences it is often difficult to see our way. The  painful disappointments and injustice of our days can cause us to feel all alone. Help us to see beyond the barrenness of this day to the bounty of your presence. Help us to see your salvation in the midst of our struggles. Our hope resides in you. Prepare us as we prepare the way. In Jesus’ name, Amen

An Advent Call to Action:

Prepare the way for justice by writing holiday cards to Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor urging the fast food giant to join the Fair Food Program in order to ensure the protection of farmworker’s human rights. Click here for inspiring #BoycottWendys Christmas Card examples and details for the action.

About the Author:

Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ and Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO. As a featured voice on many regional, national, and international platforms, Rev. Blackmon's life’s work focuses on faith-filled communal resistance to systemic injustice.  Her response in Ferguson to the killing of Michael Brown resulted in national and international recognition, gaining her many audiences spanning the breadth of the White House to the Carter Center to the Vatican. Rev. Blackmon is listed as one of Ebony Magazine’s 2015 Power 100 and she is a featured writer in several Justice publications. Last year Rev. Blackmon was inducted into the Morehouse College MLK Board of Preachers, an honor of great significance to her in the year that marked the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s death.