23 December 2018
The last week of Advent returns us to the beginning of John’s story, as Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visits Elizabeth, and John leaps within his mother’s womb. Mary’s song is, of course, one of the highlights of the birth narratives, and carries a powerful justice-proclaiming message. In the waiting of Advent, it can be tempting to become passive observers of God’s activity, but the Scriptures call us instead to be active participants in God’s salvation.
May our worship inspire and empower us to be both recipients of God’s salvation and little incarnations who carry salvation to our world.
Micah 5:2-5a: Though Bethlehem is insignificant in Judah, a ruler will come from this town, whose origins are ancient, and who will shepherd God’s people in God’s strength, giving them peace and security.
Luke 1:47-55: Mary celebrates God the Saviour because God has honoured her, even though she is lowly. God shows mercy to all who honour God, scattering the proud and arrogant, sending the rich away empty-handed, but raising up the lowly, and filling the hungry with good things.
OR Psalm 80:1-7: A prayer of repentance asking God to save God’s people, to turn them back to God and restore them.
Hebrews 10:5-10: Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice establishes a new covenant and makes us holy.
Luke 1:39-45 (46-55): Unborn John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when the pregnant Mary comes to visit. In response Elizabeth celebrates Mary and the way God has blessed her, even as the child she carries is blessed. Then, Mary responds with her song of praise (as described above).
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
There’s a temptation contained in this week’s readings to view salvation as God’s work of rescue for which we do nothing but receive. Of course, on one level, we are nothing more than recipients of God’s grace. But, the Gospel does not portray God as a super hero who swoops into save us while we just look on in amazement. In the Micah reading, a shepherd is promised for God’s people. This is God’s work. But, that shepherd comes from an insignificant town, which means that the work of this shepherd will require response from the people to whom he comes. In the Psalm, God is asked to save God’s people, but the need for the people to return to God is clearly stated. In the Hebrews reading, Jesus is revealed as the one who obeys and sacrifices in order to save us, but this is placed in the context of a discourse around covenant and our response to the work of Christ which makes us holy. Finally, in the Gospel, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is testimony to the divine initiative in both the birth of John and of Jesus, but both mothers are participants in the process of incarnation, and Mary’s song reveals that, although God is the Saviour, the justice that God brings happens as it takes hold of the lives of people. The challenge this week, then, is to recognise God’s work without becoming mere apathetic spectators of God’s salvation. We are called to be participants with God in God’s saving work, starting with our own lives as we respond in faith and repentance to the sacrifice of Christ. Then, once we have allowed God’s Reign to be conceived in us (like Mary), we become participants in the process of salvation, seeking through our attitudes and actions to bring salvation and justice to others in whatever way we can. So, God’s Reign comes to us, and then through us to others. Christ sacrifices himself for us, and then we sacrifice ourselves for others. God is born within us, and then we become midwives helping to birth God in others and in our world.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
The two aspects of this week’s theme both have a significant implications for our work for justice. Firstly, the work of repentance requires us to take responsibility for our part in the brokenness in our world and acknowledge our responsibility to others. But, repentance is not just about praying a prayer or saying sorry. We need to change our behaviour. Even as the insignificant Bethlehem became the birth place of the Saviour, so small, seemingly insignificant actions can have a huge impact on the world. As we learn to live in accordance with the values of God’s Reign – simplicity, generosity, peace, justice, grace, love, forgiveness, justice – we contribute to the healing of our world. Then, secondly, we are called to commit ourselves to manifesting and proclaiming God’s Reign in our world, and helping others to respond. We do this work by calling our leaders to account, and by responsible participation in the global community through advocacy, political participation, activism, contribution, and, where necessary, peaceful confrontation. Power is found in this work as we commit to hope, and embrace the signs of growing interconnectedness and collaboration between countries, faiths and sectors of society. These are the signs of Advent in the real world.
The small acts of repentance toward those we have hurt in our families and communities, and the small acts of turning from apathy to daily justice through learning, participating, voting and teaching, all herald God’s Advent among us in practical ways. Add to this the power of hope in God’s Spirit to empower us, and in Christ’s example to lead us, and we begin to live out the truth that small things really do make a huge difference in the world. Then, as we begin to manifest the values of God’s Reign in our own lives, homes, neighbourhoods, and communities, we can begin to work alongside others, calling them to embrace the Gospel call for themselves. This is not about getting people to pray a “sinner’s prayer” or sign a commitment card. It’s about modelling a whole new way of living – a way that recognises our connectedness, our interdependence, our responsibility for our own lives and for one another – and challenging those around us, through the fruit of our lives, to join the movement of God’s Spirit in our world. The constant rhythm of Advent, from God coming to us to God coming through us, is an invitation that can be offered to everyone, and as we allow our lives to make the invitation, the signs of Advent are seen among us in our daily lives.
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
In Praise Of Small Things
The Turning Dance
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O Little Town Of Bethlehem
Just As I Am
Joy To The World
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
A King Is Born (Link to YouTube video)
That’s Why We Praise Him (Link to YouTube video)
Here I Am To Worship (Link to YouTube video)
Do You Hear What I Hear? (Link to YouTube video)