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Seen for his radical views and staunch position on social justice issues, hymn writer, James Montgomery, originally wrote this as influenced by Psalm 72. As I consider this Advent hymn, it causes me to consider my ancestral heritage and the old African-American Freedom song,
Oh, freedom, oh, freedom
Oh, freedom over me
And before I’d be a slave
I’d be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
When I think about justice for those who have been oppressed, I reflect on the many communities I have served as a Social Worker. One in particular as I consider this Advent season and this critical juncture in our nation’s history, has to do with the incarcerated population.
When I entered seminary, I was working in the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. It was the job that I had prayed to the Lord for, believing I could make a difference. As a licensed Social Worker, in the District of Columbia, I worked for the only community based organization contracted to provide discharge planning services to those preparing for release. As the only vendor providing this service, my work took me into half-way houses, the DC Jail, as well as minimum and medium security prison campuses. I loved my job. Yes, it was very involved and tiring, at times. And still, I loved my work and enjoyed knowing that a difference was being made, one life at a time. There was one additional caveat; my primary population served was men and women living with HIV/AIDS.
There were times I considered the Epistles of Paul or even the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., two men advancing the cause of Jesus Christ in their time. I would think of them and even argue with others that not every person in prison was a “bad” or “evil” person. I had seen first-hand the many men and women who were unjustly imprisoned and some justly so. I knew with great conviction and clarity that it had a lot to do with a “rigged system” that disproportionately incarcerated people of color. Here was an opportunity for me to help assuage their additional grief by addressing positive ways to assist them in the rebuilding of their lives. They needed every encouragement and consideration that could be mustered. God was using me to aid in the process of “setting the captive free.”
So, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, great David’s greater Son! Hail in the time appointed, his reign on earth begun! He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free; to take away transgression, and rule in equity.” As we sing this Advent hymn in this season of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child, let us be used in the liberation of the oppressed and those held captive. Might we serve as a conduit for the blessings of others less fortunate than ourselves? We might even ask ourselves, “When is the last time we prayed for someone in prison?”
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for calling us into service as you seek to break oppression and set captives free. We await your coming and shout aloud, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed! Your name shall stand forever; that name to us is love.” Amen.