December 15, 2014

Greetings Friends,

One of the great themes in Advent story is the theme of waiting, of hoping, of expectation - a pregnant time. I have been pondering: What are we to wait for?

The traditional answer, of course, is the birth of Jesus, or more culturally, Christmas celebrations. But the biblical story actually emphasizes a political tack, it seems to me. One can say that the story of the coming of Jesus is really about an anticipated inversion of political order. Instead of a succession of powerful kings providing leadership, a new era is to be ushered in by a humble birth whose impoverished, displaced family is in crisis, an immigrant/refugee family, if you will. And the message of  promise for this new order is, somewhat surprisingly, provided in the biblical narrative by a woman, Mary, who, in the Magnificat, (Luke 1:46-56), among other things, announces that she has been chosen to proclaim that the new order of God will "bring down the powerful from their thrones, lift up the lowly, feed the hungry, and send the rich away empty." Not too difficult to see why this isn't the most popular part of the Christmas story for most government officials, the Chamber of Commerce, most of us in comfortable social classes,  everyone who will loose influence and privilege, and perhaps many church services.

In my understanding of the prophetic tradition-  in the Hebrew scriptures, in the teachings of Jesus and the Beatitudes, in our Quaker tradition - there is a consistent spirit of resistance to the established, arrogant and oppressive power structure. These traditions/teachings come down instead on the side of the poor. I have come to call it a theology of inversion. I believe that God does not long tolerate structural abuse of people and the land. Those that benefit from oppressive privilege and power will not endure, and somehow the "lowly" will prevail. In some ways this may simply be wishful thinking, but that is a predominant theme of the biblical narrative, and the list of "the rise and fall" of various empires attests to its historical truth. In my lifetime I have seen enough examples of arrogant power leveled down, in my personal life and politically, at least temporarily. I think, for example, how quickly the Christian right folded in the face of gay rights after so many years of bigotry and discrimination. You may have your own examples. 

My point is, when we sing "Joy to the World," or "celebrate" Christmas, one way to celebrate it is that it represents a message of assurance that a reign of oppressive dominance and arrogance is subject to a new order, one honored in the the great music and libretto from the  Messiah , a government that is inclusive, compassionate; an order where women proclaim the good news that the powerful will come down from their thrones of privilege and greed. At least for the poor, this is Hallelujah, indeed!

Peace,
Tom