Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent 4, Year C - Reading from the 5%

This week we swim deeply in God's promised justice and the hope of those who feel the pinch of scarcity, need, oppression.  And we set out our holy family, our wise men, our shepherds - decorated baubles mostly made in foreign lands.  Perhaps we have a set carved of olive wood from the Holy Land.

It is hard to read this story from the position of "the 5%." Or "the 10%." Or "the 1%."  Likely, if you are reading this post, you have a roof over your head, money in the bank, a couple of bibles on your shelves, gas in your car and milk in your refrigerator.

In the midst of our privilege, it can be hard to read the fullness this week's texts.

The prophet Micah speaks out of a gut-wrenching and tumultuous time for the Jewish people.  There were wars and raids and uprisings.  People were displaced, national identities uprooted. In these scary and hard circumstances, the people longed for a perfect King to lead them into a time of peace and prosperity. Can we imaginee how they must have felt abandoned by the Lord God.  With the boot of your oppressor at your neck, you long for a savior.

The psalmist begs the question "How long, o Lord?"  Can this age of suffering continue indefinitely? When will the God who kept covenant return to liberate God's people? "You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure."  The implication is that this is God's torment, God's justice...the people are paying a price.

Really?  Is suffering God's will?  The Israelites' trajectory was from slavery to independence to seasons of thriving intertwined with seasons of hardship, culminating in the destruction of their way of life with God. Along the way, their humanity caused them to stray, to wander, to seize power rather than to seek justice.

Hey now. That sounds a little more familiar now.

We are living in a world with a lot of pain and suffering.  And maybe, just maybe, we actually experience it in our own lives.  And I know that I have lots of resources at my disposal to numb whatever is causing me distress.  I can turn off the TV and go to the mall.  Or I can search the Internet to find someone who will speak good news into my life. I can have a glass of wine (or two). I have a lot of options for distraction from any hardship I face, and in reality, any hardship I face is likely minor.

I think this week's text really requires us to look at pain and suffering and fear and to watch for signs of hope.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author is linking Christ's sacrifice as the initiation of a new covenant. It doesn't matter that the Israelites (and all of us) wander...we are all redeemed and sanctified in Christ.

The gospel text from Luke is Mary's song, commonly called the Magnificat, proclaiming her understanding of the hope and liberation that the baby she carries will bring. "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

Which am I?

I am both, and I have the opportunity to choose a path of love and hope and peace and justice. Everyday I make the choice anew. And everyday, God walks with me, chooses me, weeps about my mistakes and rejoices in my turning. 

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