Sermons

Sun, Dec 11, 2016

History and hope

Series:Sermons

What a year it’s been!

Of course, it’s hard to see past the recent shock election of Donald Trump––

and all of the woeful characters that he has announced to fill his administration––

and the surprising referendum in Britain for leaving the European Union.

But there’s still a distinct possibility that France will soon elect a far-right candidate for its next President…

and even that most liberal of countries––

the Netherlands––

shows signs of heading in that direction.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin continues his authoritarian ways in Russia…

and, although it’s somewhat slipped from the news-radar…

unrest continues between Russia and Ukraine;

the horrific civil war, of course, continues in Syria…

not to mention in Yemen and Libya…

and in Nigeria and South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo…

and in Iraq and Afghanistan;

the Burmese government still continues to oppress and persecute the Rohingya…

and the Sri Lankan government the Tamils;

while the new president of the Philippines sees no problem in sanctioning extra-judicial murders.

And that’s just the countries that we know about…

or, occasionally, hear about.

In our world, today, there is so much that is harsh, brutal, and seemingly hopeless.

Aside from war and violence…

we live with the increasing destruction of fragile ecosystems…

and the effects of climate change.

Diseases, like HIV/AIDS, continue to devastate whole swathes of Africa and Asia.

The gap between rich and poor continues to widen,

especially in the Third World,

where the poor and underprivileged are exploited by multi-national corporations––

such as Nestlé––

and by greedy and corrupt governments.

Meanwhile, young people continue to die on our streets from illicit drugs…

or committing suicide because they’re being bullied because of their sexuality;

and many older people are resorting to desperate and violent measures to end their lives…

because they can’t cope with their suffering…

and our elected representatives champion ideology over compassion…

and vote down sensible voluntary euthanasia laws.

And, all the while, the church is seen as increasingly irrelevant or worse…

because it so publicly seems to take a reactionary social stance.

 

As we approach another Christmas…

how can we have confidence in the future?

In the face of all that we see, and read, and experience…

how can we have hope that anything is going to change––

really change––

and how can we actually believe that it will?

 

In the first century world, life was a battle for the average person:

eking out an existence on a little plot of land…

or toiling long hours in a small cottage workshop…

barely making enough to sustain their families…

crippled by rents and taxes––

to an extent that none of us, today, could begin to fathom––

paying off debts to the rich and powerful…

who only became richer and more powerful.

And, in Palestine, the Hebrew people lived under Roman domination:

they were brutally subjugated…

with every attempt at rebellion mercilessly crushed.

In that context, the author of Luke’s Gospel tells the story of a simple, young, peasant girl––

poor, powerless, and uneducated.

But, even more than that…

a simple, young, peasant girl who was pregnant, but not yet married…

in a strongly patriarchal society…

and in a culture that would have practiced honour-killings.

A powerless, pregnant, peasant girl…

living in a harsh and brutal world…

facing a very uncertain future.

And yet, as the author crafts the story, this powerless, pregnant, peasant girl proclaims…

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,

for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant…

for the Mighty One has done great things for me…

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty”.

In the face of the harsh brutality of her world…

and the bleakness of her own limited life…

Mary continues to put her trust in God.

She rejoices in a God who looks with favour on the lowly, the poor, and the oppressed;

she rejoices in a God who overturns expectations…

and who subverts the very structures of society that exploit and abuse;

she rejoices in a God who strives to create a world that is fair and just––

a world where there isn’t hunger…

or injustice…

or war…

or exploitation.

 

And yet, the author doesn’t have Mary praise God because God will do all of this…

but because God has done this.

The author has Mary speak as if it has already happened;

as if this new world has already come into existence––

not as a dream or a vision for the future…

but as something already taking place.

The author has Mary rejoice because she perceives a new beginning;

she senses a new way forward;

she grasps a new hope that is being realised.

That new beginning…

that new way forward…

that new hope…

about which she sings…

is being incarnated in her own experience.

The author has Mary rejoice in God as one who lifts up the lowly…

because God chose her––

someone lowly, poor, and powerless—

and lifted her up as the means by which God’s purposes in the world would be furthered.

God chose her––

not a princess or a queen…

not someone noble, or rich, or powerful…

but the most unlikely of sorts.

In other words, in Mary’s own experience…

God has already begun this revolution…

God has already inaugurated this new beginning…

God has already brought into being this new world order…

about which she sings.

The author has Mary praise God because, in her person––

in the reality of her lived experience––

God has already begun the transformation of creation.

 

From early times, the Church has remembered Advent as a penitential season––

not to the same extent as Lent––

but still enshrining a sense that we ought to be reflective and repentant.

Indeed, the theologian––

Marcus Borg––

reminds us that Advent is meant to be: 

“a season of anticipation, yearning, and longing for a different kind of life and a different kind of world”

In essence, that’s what repentance is.

Repentance is a change of ‘mind’––

understood as a fundamental change in one’s will––

a change of one’s motivation or priority––

but, also, a fundamental change in one’s behaviour…

and a fundamental change in one’s way of life.

Repentance isn’t primarily an emotional response––

let alone a verbal response––

but something much more comprehensive.

It’s a change in the way that we perceive…

in the way that we think…

in the way that we act…

in the way that we live our lives.

 

So, as we approach another Christmas…

and we speak, perhaps glibly, of hope, and peace, and love, and joy…

what this story of Mary––

and her hymn of praise––

reminds us is that the only way that our world will change…

the only way that peace, love, and joy will take root in our world…

is through a change in our perception and our action.

Our world will only change when we change––

when we, truly, ‘repent’––

in the way that Mary did.

As Jim Wallis reminds us:

“Hope believed is history in the process of being changed”. 

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