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By Steve Drudge
December 23, 2018
You’ve maybe given or received Christmas greeting cards or Facebook posts with the meme #blessed which often refers to physical health, a comfortable home, good family and friends; everything going relatively well, at least in our little spot in the world.
We heard how Elizabeth blessed her younger cousin Mary and blessed the child growing in her womb. Mary then magnified the Lord – for God’s favor to her and for God’s mercy to those who revere God from generation to generation. I suspect that God’s blessing is about much more than the way we often use the word ‘blessed’, and even more than Elizabeth and Mary could envision and sing about at that moment.
Mary rejoiced that God scatters the proud and brings down the powerful while lifting up the lowly. The hungry are filled with food and the rich emptied. All of this is God’s mercy, consistent with what God has been doing throughout history. How does this happen? How is it mercy for everyone – for the hungry and humble and for the proud and rich? Can this really be good news for everybody?
Already we see this pattern in God’s choice of a lowly peasant girl to birth the world’s Savior while the proud King Herod, and powerful August Caesar were being proud and powerful, thinking they were saving the world.
Then John the Baptist who prepared the way for Mary’s child proclaimed, as we heard last Sunday, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share with the hungry. To corrupt, wealthy tax collectors, “Don’t over charge.” To strong Roman soldiers, “Don’t extort money from anyone.” There you have Mary’s song in a nutshell – how the rich and powerful can prepare for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which is good news for the poor and hungry because the powerful provide for them and don’t add to their misery.
Then when Mary’s child Jesus matured, He rejected as devilish the chance to feed only himself, perform wild, crowd-gathering stunts, or to rule over all the kingdoms of the world! How many of us would chose not to be self-satisfied, popular, rich and rule over others if given the opportunity? Instead, Jesus announced that he came to bring good news to the poor, release captives, heal the blind and free the oppressed.
Let’s see how this plays out in the rest of Luke’s gospel and how it can be good news for everyone.
Next Jesus freed people from evil spirits that controlled them, healed the sick, cleansed lepers, healed a paralyzed man and forgave his sins. He gathered disciples to observe, then do the same things. He also blessed the poor, hungry and weeping and warned those who put too much stock in wealth, eating and merriment. Luke’s gospel gives many more examples of Jesus healing release and teaching that reorients.
It might not be apparent at first that the sick, blind, deaf and lame, once healed, could work to feed and clothe themselves and others. Those with leprosy had to live outside the villages, lonely and hungry, so as not to contaminate others. Once healed, they could rejoin family and village life. Forgiven people could look others in the face again, look in the mirror and no longer see guilt and shame, worship God freely. Jesus noticed people others just hurried past, touched them, let them touch him, spoke with them, listened, and healed. Jesus invites any who will, to follow him.
Last summer our TOOLS learning and service group walked along Bloor Street in Toronto. Our leader pointed out one of the wealthiest areas of Toronto to the north, and one of the poorest to the south – “us” and “them,” divided by a wide street, never being in each other’s space. TOOLS gave us the opportunity to sit cross-legged on the street conversing with people who we discovered were very interesting, not just panhandlers. Some help each other, share food so others don’t go hungry.
Last month one of my brothers offered to get a coffee for one of the PSWs who cared for my dad. She declined but he got her one anyway. She said, “You’re the first person who ever offered.” She’s been working as a PSW for 2 1/2 years.
Brene Brown describes how people in the service industry feel unnoticed. She was in a fast food drive-through when her cell phone rang. Thinking it might be about her son she answered but it was someone confirming an appointment. Meanwhile she paid for her food but got off her phone in a hurry and apologized to the woman in the window, “I’m sorry.” The woman got huge tears in her eyes, “Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea how humiliating it is sometimes. They don’t even see us.” (Daring Greatly, 148-9) “They don’t even see us.” Who are the minimum wage folds we need to interact with. Last week Dan made an announcement about intentionally developing habits so we notice people in our community. Connection is the energy created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued. (Brown, 145). Jesus was really good at it. We can follow.
This is all good news for the poor and lowly but is it for the wealthy and powerful? Or does only judgment await them?
Luke includes a story of Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, notably rich (19:1-10) Jesus invited himself to dinner at his house. Contact! …with someone other Jews scorned. There with Jesus Zacchaeus decided to give half his possession to the poor and to pay back four times anyone he defrauded. Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house….The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” The lost can be the poor, they can just as well be the wealthy, like Zacchaeus. Emptying himself of so much of his wealth to lift up the poor and to be reunited with those he had alienated was a huge step of salvation for this powerful, wealthy man. Jesus invites any who will, to follow him
Recent local news stories have featured well educated counsellors and nurse practitioners dedicated to those who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction who come to their clinic with tremors and leave with a smile and hugs (Record, Dec. 12, 2108, A1)
A couple – both former addicts living on the street – give sleeping bags and warm clothes to people on the street because such gifts helped them when they were there.
A social entrepreneur “has found a way to lift thousands of people out of poverty across North America” (Record, Dec. 10, 2018, A1)
Some business owners enjoy providing employment for those who need it and generously giving a hand up to the lowly, locally and in the developing world.
This coming weekend our youth and a few adults will help with a weekly Saturday supper hosted by Kitchener churches for people who are lonely, homeless, underemployed, anyone can come. We’ll be the waiters, servers, bussers for those who tend to be less visibly wealthy and powerful.
The rich and powerful can choose to be part of God’s saving acts by noticing and responding to the plight of the lowly, thus also saving themselves from cold indifference, and worse, being part of the problem like the tax collector once defrauded clients.
Mary’s song is about leveling the playing field not role reversal.
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr has met many social activists advocating for crucial justice issues, but still living out of their need to win, the need to look good—attached to a superior, politically correct self-image. That’s one reason that most revolutions fail, he explains. When subjugated people rise to power, they often become as dominating as their oppressors because the same demon of power hasn’t been exorcised in them (18/12/16). You’ve seen it – those once shamed and silenced now seek to shame and silence others.
Some you have heard me say how this past summer in Timmins we heard from indigenous elders, one who had lost his village to a hydroelectric dam, another had been in a residential school. From neither did I sense, “Now we should hold it over you!” It was refreshing.
Mary’s song is not about who wins and who loses in the power game; it’s about no longer playing that game. With God’s saving judgment the rich and powerful too full of themselves, self-entitled and isolated to see their neighbour, are stripped of their arrogance and taught to love their neighbour as themselves. In this way God provides for the poor who have been too desperate, threadbare and humiliated to be convinced that anyone, even God, could love them. Brought together in giving and receiving, each person has access to enough and no one has too much. No one uses power to harm.
And the greatest leveling of all: Luke tells us Jesus took his disciples aside and explained that he, Child of God and equal with God would be arrested, mocked, insulted, spit upon, flogged and killed – humbling himself to be executed as the lowliest of humans – And on the third day he will arise again. Luke goes into detail about the extent to which Mary’s child, God’s Son went to save those – the haughty or debased – who respond to him.
The blessing Mary sang and we sing at Christmas is not only about my material blessings but more of a cross-shaped blessing. In a culture limited in imagination by self-centeredness, this really is God’s mercy … given for all who will receive it, the proud and the humble. Luke’s Gospel invites us to let Jesus be our Lord, to participate in God’s mercy for all.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let us receive.
- Micah 5:2 - 5a
- Luke 1:38 - 55