“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16)
On the 10th Day of Christmas, I sat in the death chamber of the Bonne Terre prison in Missouri holding Amber McLaughlin’s hand in prayer while the state injected poison into her veins. She was the first of 24 people murdered by state execution in the U.S. this year.
It was this season, the season of Advent, a time brimming with excitement, expectation, and wonder that I got to know Amber. While singing about hope, peace, and joy, I learned Amber’s stories, worries, and loves as we prepared for her murder.
Life and death comingle. Hope and despair are partners. Grief is a mirror of love. Of course, this is not news. For green leaves to grow from the beloved maple tree outside the window, last year’s leaves must fall off to make way for the new growth.
But there is something fundamentally wrong when parents weep because their children are murdered. It is as if the leaves turned orange and red in springtime. When will we learn not to kill people we are afraid of? When will we learn that vengeance doesn’t grant us peace? How many people must we kill to prove that killing people is wrong?
Honestly, I have not been looking forward to Advent this year. It feels like too much to ask my soul to long for a world without Herods when there are so many. Thankfully, faith doesn’t require us to embrace empty promises, easy answers, or half-truths. It does however require us to bring softness to hard places and open ourselves to meet Jesus in unlikely faces.
So perhaps we can find hope in those meeting the incarnate one on the other side of the glass, listening to a voice over a telephone in a cold, cavernous room and leaving changed — by love — forever.
Rev. Lauren Bennett is the Provisional Senior Pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of St. Louis, Missouri. Read more about her ministry with Amber McLaughlin in a report from A Public Witness.