Lectionary Passages for Advent 2, December 4, 2016. Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Matthew 3:1-12, Romans 15:4-13
Every Christmas pastors have to speak on the same passages, and every Christmas I'm always amazed that there is something new to think and say about these same old passages.
This year I am wondering who these scriptures are meant for and what audience do I and my people assume we are a part of?
So much of the advent scripture is about hope for something better, and release from our bondage to the dysfunctions of the world. My question then is which side are we on? Are we the oppressed, the needy, the imprisoned, the poor, the meek like those named in Isaiah and the Psalm? If we are not those, then are we the oppressors, the rich, the enforcers of power? Matthew names the Sadducees and Pharisees as a "brood of vipers". Isaiah, in the iconic peace passage that has the lion laying down beside the lamb, also says that God will kill the wicked. These bits should cause us some concern. The Pharisees and Sadducees were seen, by themselves and others, as the upstanding citizens, the religious law-followers, the good folk. Yet Jesus names them vipers. We might not think ourselves wicked, but maybe our complacency and consumerism is enough to put us into the wicked category too. It is easy, when life is mostly comfortable, to think we deserve it. To protect our comforts and ideas, to turn a blind eye to injustice and pretend it isn't our issue because, obviously, we are living right and others are not.
I don't think I am in the needy categories. I have food, shelter, safety, the support of friends and family. I even have health and insurance. If things go wrong, I will not be on the street or shunned by family or discarded by the systems in my Country.
So how do we listen to good news for the poor, if we are not them? Good news to the poor might be bad news for the not-poor....unless we can be part of the change, part of the sharing, part of the reconciling and welcoming of the other like what is encouraged in Romans.
The acknowledgement that humans fail, but there is always hope in God is a powerful message that needs repeating each Christmas. How we are recipients of that hope is worth rethinking again and again. From what perspective do you hear the news as an individual? As a part of a church? As a privileged Canadian? If I am not in obvious need of the kind of hope promised, how am I helping (or hindering) the delivery of God's promises to others?
P.S. A little side note. When I read the Isaiah piece again this year, I was struck by the sentence; "he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked." Not good news for the earthy or wicked! The most interesting bit for me is that the wolf, leopard, lion, bear, and asp are not in the "wicked" category at all. A lot of our literature, especially children's stories often categorize these predators as evil. Not here at all. If they are metaphors for people, perhaps the categories of wicked and not wicked are fuzzier than we think. Good thing God looks at the heart!
Another little note; I can't help but reflect on the advent scriptures in light of the election politics we see in the US, and the attitudes and issues, especially this "white-lash" thing being expressed in our culture. When I think of who the scriptures are for and who they are against, I recall the nasty things I heard said about democrats, and those said about republicans. I don't think the lines are that clear. There is good and evil on both sides-the stereotyping of whole categories of people is unhelpful and could even be hugely destructive to the process of positive change. So, when I think of the categories of oppressed and oppressor, I am leaving grey areas in my categorizations. What I really want to avoid, however, is the assumption that all the good parts of the scriptures are for me while the hard stuff is for someone else. I think that unless we face the nasty parts of ourselves, our communities and world will have a hard time seeing the true hope that God promises in these Advent scriptures.