Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent - First Move

Jesus chose to live here
Photo credit: Jonathan McIntosh

How delightful it is to see approaching over the mountains    the feet of a messenger who announces       peace, a messenger who brings good news,      who announces deliverance,      who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen, your watchmen shout;   in unison they shout for joy, for they see with their very own eyes    the Lord’s return to Zion. In unison give a joyful shout,     ruins of Jerusalem! 
For the Lord consoles his people;    he protects Jerusalem. The Lord reveals his royal power     in the sight of all the nations; the entire earth sees    our God deliver.

Advent, as we noted in the introduction to this series, originally referred to a state visit by the Roman Emperor. For him, messengers would have been sent out far and wide, preparations would have been going on for months, and everyone would know that Caesar Augustus was coming.

For the official state visit of the High King of the Universe there had indeed been an announcement -- but it was made to unknown peasant women.  And preparations were certainly being made, but they were being made in the womb of an unmarried teenage girl.

Make no mistake: The Lord was certainly "returning to Zion" and he would "reveal his royal power" in ways that still reverberate today.  The announcement found in today's scripture would come true; everyone who cared to look would know that God reigns. But the way the Messiah went about mounting his revolution was totally unexpected in almost every respect.

We're all familiar with how this plays out: Mary and Joseph, because of Caesar's orders, must travel 90 miles to an unfamiliar town, live with the work animals, and as a result the transcendent God who normally lives in unapproachable glory is born in a mule's feed box. Then they return to the minuscule, hardscrabble village of Nazareth where Jesus grows up among a few hundred people, most of them barely able to scrape together enough of a living to survive day by day.

But wait a minute. This is the Son of the all-powerful God we're talking about. This was not by chance. His birth could have occurred under any circumstances he desired -- in a palace, in a room at the temple, in the home of a prosperous merchant. Even an ordinary, fairly comfortable home would have been a step up. Perhaps Joseph could have worked a choice carpentry job for a wealthy client before leaving for Bethlehem so he and Mary could have a few hundred denarii in their pockets. With the wave of his hand God could easily have made this story much different.

But that is not how the Messiah wanted to come into this world. Instead he thought it was of supreme importance to be incarnated among the poor and the powerless.

Think about that. What does this say about the kind of God we Christians worship?

All throughout the Hebrew scriptures God had shown intense concern with the weakest members of society. "Don’t oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor..." his prophets had cried.  Now, in his inaugural act as Messiah (an unborn act, no less), he freely chooses to become one of them.

Yes, this is God's strategy for invading the world and fomenting revolution, for founding the Kingdom of God. This King has chosen to stand up from among the weak and helpless of the world whose ranks he purposefully joined and, "announce peace... announce deliverance... and say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'"

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Father of the Fatherless, Advocate of the poor, thank you for becoming one of us at our most abject. In all we do enable us to proclaim peace, deliverance, and Jesus' reign.  It is in Jesus' name that we pray. Amen.

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