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The Fourth Sunday of Advent - Year C
For those living in the Northern Hemisphere Tuesday December 21st is the Winter Solstice. It will be the shortest day and longest night of the year. Different traditions will gather to celebrate the “birth of the sun” while Christians, in a homophonic way, will focus on the “birth of the Son.”
Christmas celebrates the arrival of Jesus from Nazareth as the revelation of God. His mission was to save not only the Jews from Roman empirical oppression but to proclaim a time of peace, prosperity, and salvation for all people. Christians believe that the world order would be significantly altered because of the justice-filled ministry and sacrifices modeled by Jesus.
Much of the world’s problems are caused by those who wish to control the destiny of this planet and its occupants. Theirs is not an egalitarian or peaceful agenda. Christians and others who care about the earth and vulnerable citizens are called to counter tyranny with justice.
On this fourth Sunday of the Advent season the biblical texts speak of resilience. The prophet Micah (5:1-4a) predicted the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. But he also promised a future ruler who would come from Bethlehem-Ephrathah, a small remote and unknown town. It was the birthplace of the underdog David, the future king of Judah and Israel. God dwells among those who are least familiar.
The Psalm (80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19) is a communal lament that was used in times of national oppression. It calls upon God to save the people from danger. The psalmist implores the Creator to “take care of what you have planted.” This prayer is relevant today as we ponder how to reap goodness in God’s garden while many societies appear arid and parched.
Americans are at odds with one another and the role government plays when it comes to immigration policies, environmental regulations, taxes, vaccinations, and voters’ rights. Nineteen states have enacted 33 laws this year that will make it harder for Americans to vote. This last issue is only one example of several efforts underway to undermine the foundations of our democracy.
Many wonderful pastoral initiatives aim to serve people in need. The irony is that while this is happening membership in American houses of worship is at an all time low. A modicum of imagination and courage would breath new life into congregations. This could mean letting go of worn out religious customs. Also, in allegiance to the gospels, preachers could make more biblical based statements criticizing government for its negligence in caring for every citizen.
Faith thrives along with social action. Like the prophets of old and Jesus himself, there is a need to publicly decry the behavior of those politicians who have become adept at twisting biblical aphorisms. They do so to justify their agendas, which often decry or ignore human rights. Pulpit apathy and silence hurts powerless people.
Adam Hearlson, Pastor of Overbrook Presbyterian Church, wrote about radical and courageous preaching. “One of the marks of the prophetic imagination is its resilience. It refuses to be trampled. To be a prophet is to take the external possibilities and resist allowing their internalization. The outside possibilities ought never hinder our imagination of what remains possible.” This is so true as the media, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook, more so than the Bible, are shaping opinions and value systems.
Who will rise to the occasion? Will it be a power from on high? Or, will it be someone we least expect? In the gospel story (Luke 1:39-45) we hear about two previously unknown women. An unwed teenager from Nazareth connects with her old barren cousin from the hill country of Judah. Both Elizabeth and Mary are mysteriously pregnant. Elizabeth was too old and Mary was a virgin.
Both of them were about to give birth to miracle babies who would, in principle, challenge people to fix societal corruption, to level self-serving governments, to care for creation, and to celebrate a simple way of living. Mary was not a recognized leader of people. John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop Emeritus of Newark, affirmed that Mary [like other women] was “de-humanized by a condescending and patriarchal hierarchy.”
Still, like many feisty, independent-minded teenagers today, Mary spoke her mind, and forecast how the baby she was bearing would eventually make life better especially for the working class. Mary broke into song and fearlessly broadcast that the powerless will be made strong and the strong will be made weak.
Niveen Sarras, a Lutheran Palestinian Biblical Scholar, who was born in Bethlehem, sees the birth of Christ, as told in Luke and Matthew, as a political and religious response to Roman Imperialism. She wrote: “The narrative of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth speaks to us about Mary’s participation in the salvation of her people … Mary’s song voices themes that appear in every culture, society, and generation. People are still anticipating deliverance from unjust rulers and unjust law.”
It is apparent that privileged white men are not the only ones who can declare the word of God or establish peace on earth. Women, people of color, poor, ostracized, incarcerated, and vulnerable people all impart the real presence of God in our midst. New Zealand storyteller, Joy Cowley, rendered Mary’s Song with a refreshing and encouraging adaptation. “My soul sings in gratitude. I’m dancing in the mystery of God. The light of the Holy One is within me and I am blessed, so truly blessed.”
For those of us who see Advent as a time to regain our confidence as Christians, strengthen our resilience and take action against inequities, Mary’s Song is our anthem. We too are called to “dance in the mystery of God.”