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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent Journey Day 17

We've been contrasting Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol with texts from Isaiah as we've journeyed through Advent with our church.  This has been incredibly rich from a preacher's point of view for both of these old texts are still rich with lessons and meaning for our lives today.  
Sometimes, even at Christmas, people don't always like what the preacher has to say!
While Dickens gives us a stark portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge's misguided life, Isaiah illustrates for us the deep commitment to redemption and restoration that God longs for his people to have through the advent of Jesus Christ.  Of course, for Scrooge, redemption comes in the end, but not after it has been revealed to him that he's wounded from his past, selfish in his present and in need of change in order to alter the future.  Who among us is much different than that?  Sunday's service focused on our need to care for those wanting and deal with our ignorance.  You may recall that ignorance and want were the names of the huddled children that the ghost of Christmas present revealed to Scrooge under his large cloak.  One of the main points was that the materialism of the west creates oppression for the least of these in our world.  The point was not that we should not give gifts or enjoy the bounty that is ours but rather that we need to balance the way in which we share and manage our resources.  Doug cited The National Retail Federation's projection for retail sales in the US to come in around 601 billion dollars, up from 466 billion dollars last year as evidence that our sharing of resources in our world might be a bit off.  While he noted America, he made it clear that the entire western world was part of this over indulgent trend.  I found it challenging...to consider how balanced our charitable giving is against our leisure spending.  
Someone fairly new to our church didn't like his point.  In fact, the exact comment was, "The portraying of the U. S. as being over-indulgent and uncaring was uncalled for and mean-spirited."  I'm not sure Doug was portraying the US as uncaring, but over-indulgent...well, that seems quite obvious from my point of view.  After a more understanding correspondence, another comment was, "Is there no place for peace of mind?  No place to revel in love and caring without being bombard with agendas or dealing with issues?  I thought it could be church but guess there are agendas too which is fine and great that you are trying to motivate your congregation into action.  I guess we'll just have to try and decide is it right for us."  
I find this so interesting and sad.  Why in the world would you think that the church would be a place where you don't deal with issues?  I used to get this often when I was chaplain at North Park. If my emphasis was on doing justice or seeking to act compassionately in a world of pain and injustice, some students would cry, "Why can't you just talk about the love of Jesus and not be so political?  Why can't we just focus on discipleship?"  I never understood that.  Does not the love of Jesus, the peace of Jesus that the above mentioned person so longs for come through the grace of God but is then lived out in service to the poor and in pursuit of justice and mercy for humanity?  Is our discipleship also not measured in how well we care for those on the margins of society?  So much of what Jesus taught and how he lived reveals this in such clear ways.  Even so, the rich, the mighty, the privileged...not interested. It seems that some just want a feel good, God loves me just the way I am so therefore I have no need to change my way of living and being kind of religion.  To be fair, this person was quick to name how many charities they support and that's great.  Many privileged, rich and mighty folks are generous and do give, but it seems they want to keep the real issues at bay.  But I believe that our discipleship must also include the ability to talk about hard things and be challenged and also learn to know those who live on the edges of our societies.  It's great to send money.  It's better to come face to face with what it really means to put others above yourself, in the same way that Christ did.
Is not Micah one of the prophets we read at Christmas and is it not Micah who stated, "I have shown you what the lord requires of you: Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly with your God?"  It troubles me that it is often those with privilege and power who balk about these teachings.  It seems that often people don't want to hear about the hard realities, like the fact that the western world is hugely wasteful and over indulgent.  Even if the west is also hugely generous, one cannot dispute the reality of our waste.  
OK, sermon over.  Venting finished.  What to do?  Be willing to hear the whole gospel, not just the bits that affirm what you want to hear.  Allow yourself to be challenged, theologically and sociologically.  Try to see the world through different lenses.  And listen, I mean really listen to what the prophets are saying to us as we wait for the birth of Christ once again.  And then, listen, and I mean really listen, to all that Jesus has to say to us as well.