Luke 3: 7-18
In less than a month I will turn 62 years old.? I don?t expect presents or cards. I am just practicing saying that number out loud.? I have a great love for even numbers, so apart from the largeness of the number itself in relation to things like death, I?m okay with being 62.? What amazes me, at age nearly 62, is how slowly I catch on to some realities.? It is not a function of age, I have always been slow in some ways and it is rather embarrassing.
Despite my rural farm boy lack of exposure to much critical thinking alongside massive amounts of conservative group think that informed the first nearly twenty?years of my life, I received a good education, first at Ball State and later during my doctoral work at Christian Theological Seminary. I purposely leave out my seminary training that led to this thing called a Master of Divinity.? It was low-quality, traditional, uncritical?this is what you need to believe in order to fit into church structures that say God is in control of all things and that Jesus died a bloody death for my sins because God was really angry with human beings, mostly men, because women and children were literally mere property.? In my evangelical and mainly fundamentalist seminary education I was never taught about salvation being anything other than personal.? I was not led to consider the social ramifications of the Gospel of Jesus, of the shalom, the wholeness, the salvation that many of us today would understand as social justice and perhaps the most essential aspect of what it means to be in the process of being saved or, as the Apostle Paul spoke, running the good race toward our salvation.? I suspect it goes without saying, I was simply taught and was to teach you, that without question Christianity was the only religion that was true and mainly speaking this truth was best expressed with the terminology of traditional Baptist Protestantism.
My professional religious training was very Donald Trump-ish?religious freedom was for the benefit of the public/religious majority, not for minority religious expressions, whose followers were lost anyway to eternal damnation.
I was slow to catch on to so much of the complexity of religious thought?and the realities of the world because of my isolated growing-up years and a second-rate religious education at the Master?s level.? I was never taught the religious roots of patriarchy or significantly about racism, sexism, global economic theories, homophobia, misogyny, or about how political power is often intimately engaged with the religious majority.? I was not taught how the universe functions according to quantum mechanics and certainly not about white male privilege?the list of what no one in my educational development considered essential is endless.? About the only thing I can say about myself in those early years is that I was mainly good, na?ve, and innocent.
Today, I know about over-population concerns.? In my lifetime the population of human creatures on this planet has more than doubled from 3 billion in 1960 to our current and growing number of 7.185 billion.
I worked hard and put myself through college and all my advanced degrees and never gave a thought to the reality that black people couldn?t do it the same way.? Today, I understand more completely than at time in my 60-plus years that it was the privilege of my color that enabled me to move so relatively easily from being a poor dirt farmer to a well-paid preacher.? I have never been denied financial aid, loans, or a house where I wanted to live.? I have never but three times been stopped by a police officer and it never occurred to me to be fearful, only slightly aggrieved, and I have never been given a ticket, much less been searched or demeaned by an officer of the law.? When I am in a neighborhood and a car drives by or stops near me, no one locks their door or even suspects me to be suspicious and calls the cops out of fear.? I don?t have a friend who has ever been shot by the police, and yet I know that every black family knows someone personally that has been.? Today, I know that I am privileged by my whiteness and that bad things happen to black people nearly every day of their lives. I am aghast to discover the depths of my ignorance and lack of sincere leadership until much too recently.
This week I saw a follow up story on the young minister and his wife up in Indianapolis.? She was raped and murdered in what perhaps was a robbery scenario.? Two young men have been arrested in that crime.? It was interesting to me that in the news reports she was always only referred to as the ?minister?s wife,? never by name.? Her name is Amanda Blackburn.
Her husband gave his first sermon since her death and parts of it made the local Indianapolis news reports.? He said in regard to her murder and rape, ?God who is in control of all things, allowed these things to happen to her so that we might know God?s love today.?
Does God allow murder and rape?? Doesn?t that make God an accomplice?? It does.? Such belief about God being in control and allowing bad things to happen is an immoral belief, it makes God immoral and hardly? worthy of being praised or of our living our lives in dedication to what God desires.? At any moment God might allow, for some godly reason, something horrible to happen to someone we love or to?us.? Christianity needs to be more thoughtful about what it is telling people, if we are to be faith system, a church, that successfully remains a prime mover in the 21st century.? The world needs to grow up fast if we are to more effectively adjust to climate change.? Sloppy, childish religion is a huge hindrance to global peace and social justice and personal responsibility.
We are in this season of Advent which is about waiting for God to act.? It is based on this idea that God acted uniquely in Jesus? birth after the Jews had been waiting for well over a hundred centuries for a Messiah to appear in the lineage of King David. And then in the early part of the 1st century, after Jesus? life and death, the early church was waiting again, waiting for the return of Jesus to come back to earth and bring an end to all suffering and put into place God?s Way, God?s government, God?s authority on earth as it is in heaven.
This advent let?s risk growing up in our beliefs just a tad bit.? You?know, a little, not too much.? If God is Love and God were in control, bad things would not happen.? God would do what any loving person does?keep the bad from happening.?? Love just does that whenever it can.
I understand that many of the early Christians were waiting for Jesus? return, or if you will, for God to act decisively again as God had through the prophets including Jesus, himself.? This seems still to be so new for so many of us, but what if, and it is my preferred belief, what if God is fully present in everyone and everything and is decisively, actively, lovingly, luring us toward the best that could happen in literally every nanosecond of time? (a nanosecond is a unit of time equal to 1 billionth of a second.)? That is, I believe, how utterly present and active God is.? No waiting to know what God desires.? Zero.? Nada.? None.
Advent has long been structured and built around this idea that we need to wait for more of God, more instructions and more clarity.? I am more than certain that Advent needs for us to stop waiting for God.? It has, Advent, most to do with the reality that God is waiting for us to be the women and men that God has long been dreaming into us to be! ?No more waiting for God!? ?Is it possible to see the larger arc of divine presence, gently and non-coercively moving through the ambiguities of our personal and planetary history?? God is already here, the arch is not hard to notice really and God is waiting for us to join with it.
Christmas and the story of Jesus as our Christ, as our light that focuses on the way God is and the way God is active in the world?the story gets revisited, not so we get presents but to remind us that God was and is fully present so that we might be encouraged to live our lives as Jesus lived his, in service to the least of these in our world who need the help that we can give.? So that the shalom, the peace of God, the long awaited salvation might become real not only in us personally, but equally so in all in habitants of this world.
Last week in true Advent fashion, ?baby news came at warp speed:
Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook and a multi-billionaire, had a baby daughter, Max.? In honor of her birth, he and his wife established a non-profit fund of $45 billion dollars, to advance human potential and promote equality.
Two days later, San Bernardino shooters Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik intentionally orphaned their baby daughter, who is now in child protective custody without a penny to her unpublished name.
All this, in the first week of Advent, when we Christians begin our annual Advent trek to the manger in Bethlehem, to find Mary?s Babe asleep on the hay.
Will the billionaire?s child save us from the dark side of ourselves that sees poor children as disposable? The British paper The Guardian suggests that such philanthropies as Mark Zuckerberg is setting up increase capital for the wealthy who run them, in the name of the poor whom they do not actually help.
John, the Voice in the Wilderness, each year decries the economy of trickle-down economics, and the economy of branding, which takes care of its own at the expense of the weaker, the poorer;? John preaches an economy of meeting one another?s needs.? So this is Christmas: not wish lists, but sharing the basics, in the name of a Baby who had nothing.
All poor men and humble, all lame men who stumble, come haste ye, and feel not afraid.? For Jesus, our treasure, with love past all measure, in lowly poor manger was laid. ?Traditional Welsh carol.