By Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom
Freedom has a dull ring. Those are not my words, they are Martin Luther King, Jr.’s.
In his letter “The Sword that Heals,” he describes what he means. “Even today there still exists in the South – and in certain areas of the North -the license that our society allows to unjust officials who implement their authority in the name of justice to practice injustice against minorities. Where, in the days of slavery, social license and custom placed the unbridled power of the whip in the hands of overseers and masters, today – especially in the southern half of the nation – armies of officials are clothed in uniform, invested with authority, armed with instruments of violence and death and conditioned to believe that they can intimidate, maim or kill Negroes with the same recklessness that once motivated the slaveowner. If one doubts this conclusion, let him search the records and find how rarely in any southern state a police officer has been punished for abusing a Negro” (sic, Why We Can’t Wait, 20).
He wrote these words over 50 years ago, and they could have been written today. Or August 9. Or July 17. Or February 26, 2012. Or November 26, 2006. Or so many other days…
Freedom has a dull ring, and this is why we cannot wait.
Wait for what? The affirmation of freedom in Christ points to the urgency of God’s children to live together and find unity—amidst diverse backgrounds, genders, cultures, ages—in Christ. It points to the urgency of a kind of freedom that does not wield power; rather, it gives up power. It points to the knowledge that truth only sets us free if it is truth for everyone.
Freedom has a dull ring when it is only for some, and not others. This is why we cannot wait.
And we do not have to wait. As we move from Advent to the season of Christmas, the Blessed Mary offers a vision of freedom established by a mere child. Her magnificent song of faith turns the world upside down. It lifts up the lowly, demotes the powerful and fills the hungry not only with food but with good things.
Mary does not wait—she sings as though the overturning of worldly power has already happened. Her use of past tense is very much in line with the prophetic speech of the Old Testament. Mary’s employment of the past mirrors the prophets’ own practice of orating the future as though it were history. So certain were the prophets, they spoke as though what they said were already true. So certain is Mary, she speaks as though Christ has already come.
Are we that certain? So certain that we can speak as though Christ has already come?
Indeed he has. Christ has come. He offered us a freedom whose ring is anything but dull. It is a freedom for all, inclusive of all. And it is why we cannot wait.