12/19/21 – Revolutionary Love

REVOLUTIONARY LOVE

December 19, 2021
4th Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:1-5; Luke 1:46b-55; Heb. 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

It’s 6 days until Christmas and we, finally, are hearing in scripture that “its beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” The prophet Micah prophesies that a new ruler of Israel will restore Israel in God’s eyes and, yes, he will be born in Bethlehem! Luke tells us Mary is pregnant! We can celebrate and sing along with Mary. But her song is no gentle lullaby, it’s an exuberant song of revolution. It’s a song that rejoices that God has brought down the oppressors of the people and lifted up the oppressed. Mary’s song is central to the theme of today’s scripture readings – God’s love is shown in God’s desire to be with us, to protect and guide us. The prophet Micah and the author of Hebrews sing the repeated refrain of this revolutionary love song, telling us why we needed, and continue to need, a savior.

The lyrics to Mary’s song were lifted from the Old Testament, from Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel, and Isaiah’s prophecy of a Suffering Servant King. As the final third of Isaiah, Micah’s audience was the post-exilic people of Israel. The hardships they had experienced at the hands of their conquerors had left them feeling abandoned by God. Their own complicity in the sins, for which God had punished them, was a source of shame. Up to chapter 4, the prophet Micah had delivered prophecies of doom, which had already occurred when the book of Micah was written. After the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722, refugees flooded into the southern kingdom, Judah. To keep Assyria from invading, Judah paid “tributes” to Assyria for several generations, the cost of which was passed on to the people. It was a time when the crops were not plentiful and the poor experienced hunger and deprivation. The government put pressure on the landowners to decrease wages and buy more property to grow crops to increase food production. In chapters 2 and 3, Micah reports that the “heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel” seized small farmer’s fields, took bribes, and ruthlessly oppressed the people to increase their own profits. (Feasting on the Word. Year C, Vol. 1. P.76)  Needless to say, those behaviors continue to afflict pain in the world.

But in our reading today, the prophet Micah offers comfort and hope. A new ruler of Israel, born in Bethlehem like the revered King David, would lead them to restoration and renewal. Note, however, that Micah does not use the word, king, to identify this new ruler. He describes the new ruler, not as a warrior, but as “one of peace.” In chapter 4 Micah introduces the future ruler with these familiar words: 3He shall judge between many peoples and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore;” This was Micah’s vision of a new Israel, a reversal of the way in which the people lived under previous reigns.

The author of Hebrews fast forwards us to the time of the early Church. The unknown author explains why we needed a savior to atone for our sins. The bottom line is, we just can’t stop sinning on our own. We will always need the forgiveness of our debts to God because of our sins. Jesus is the great high priest who sacrificed himself for our sins. Performing the ritual of sacrificing animals without repentance changes nothing. The author was in agreement with the Old Testament on that score.

At the time Mary was pregnant with Jesus, as in the time of Micah, the feeling of abandonment was present for the people of Israel. The people longed for a messiah to deliver them from the control of the Roman Empire. We can imagine her joy that she was carrying the child that would be that messiah for her people. But she would have also felt very vulnerable to be pregnant in such unusual circumstances. Fortunately, she had Joseph’s support. He too had been visited by an angel. However, women’s bodies and choices have always been severely scrutinized. She could expect to feel uncomfortable and quite possibly unsafe in her home community.

Just because Mary said “yes” doesn’t mean that she had no fear. Mary struggled with heeding the angel’s command, “Do not be afraid” just as we do when we hear those words. Mary, literally, heads to the hills rather than to her parents’ home. Luke tells us the first thing Mary does is to “make haste” to travel to a relative for support and comfort. In Deuteronomy, we read that an unmarried woman who is found to be pregnant would have been subject to stone at the entrance to her father’s house. (Deut. 22:20-21) No wonder she ran to the home of a distant cousin. She didn’t run away from God, but she sure ran away from danger. God would have expected her to protect herself and God’s child from human violence. Here the Bible tells us that human law and tradition were unjust and defied God’s will.

In the security of Elizabeth’s home, Mary can share her joy with someone who understands. Elizabeth and her husband, Zachariah, have also experienced God’s intervention in their lives and are part of the same greater mission Mary was given. The song of praise that Mary delivers, in what has become known as The Magnificat, describes what God’s coming kingdom will look like. Her song does not shy away from the reasons we need a savior: “he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” The world was not the way God intended and needed to be transformed and redeemed. Mary tells us of a vision of a world where God’s justice and mercy will reign and how blessed she is to be part of it. She knows, even before Jesus is born what he was sent to do, and it is the women and babies, the most vulnerable, least powerful or well-regarded, who are given the first glimpse of the coming kingdom. So too, after his crucifixion, it is the women who will be the first witnesses to the resurrection.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, represent two roles of faith. Mary was called to bring forth Christ into the world. Elizabeth affirmed and supported Mary, just as her son would do in the future. We could also apply these roles to the Church. At times, our congregations are taking the risks and doing the labor of discipleship out in the world and at times our congregations are being the welcomers and supporters. Every church needs a balance of each, just as we need that balance in our own lives of faith.

How we would welcome a poor, pregnant teenager from outside our community is how we would receive Mary, the mother of Christ. How we would treat the child of this poor mother is how we would treat Christ. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus described the fulfillment of his commission to be his body in the world to prepare for the kingdom of God: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40) “If we are to make good on our claim to follow the Jesus, whose birth we await this season, we will extend hospitality to strangers instead of creating obstacles to keep them out. We will feed the hungry, tend the sick, and welcome children.

Mary is a model of trust, obedience, and Christian discipleship. Knowing there would be risks and sacrifices, she said “Yes” to God and then followed through on her commitment. With belief in God’s promises and the assurances of the prophets known to her from Scripture, she knew what the world would look like when her Son brought salvation. It would look like justice. She knew what it would feel like. It would feel like hope, peace and joy, and love. God put a song in her heart and on her lips. And, with grace, he provided her a backup chorus, a small but inspired cast that played critical supporting roles.

Though our stage and our cast may be small, we too have supporting roles to play in welcoming the kingdom of God into our community. May we join Mary in singing God’s praises, celebrating God’s revolutionary love, and preparing to welcome Christ to enter our world once again.

Amen. May it be so!

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2021, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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