Advent Reflection: Salvation Came From The Cut

 

 A Postcolonial Advent Meditation 

The Jews of Jesus’ day were waiting for the coming Messiah.  Like the Jews of Jesus’ day we are waiting as well.  We are also remembering the coming of baby Jesus and the anticipation surrounding his advent.  Along with waiting we are asking for both a personal and communal advent.  During this season we are longing to be renewed and reminded of the old, old Story.  We ask God to trouble the stagnant waters of our souls. 

As we meditate on this story we may hear a call to participate in this Story: 

And Mary said:  
   “My soul glorifies the Lord  
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  
 for he has been mindful  
      of the humble state of his servant.  
   From now on all generations will call me blessed,  
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—  
      holy is his name.  
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,  
      from generation to generation.  
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;  
      he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones  
      but has lifted up the humble.  
 He has filled the hungry with good things  
      but has sent the rich away empty.  
 He has helped his servant Israel,  
      remembering to be merciful  
to Abraham and his descendants forever,  
      even as he said to our fathers.”
 

Mary gives expression to a hope shared by many Jews of her day: a deliverer will come to defeat and plunder the powerful while simultaneously lifting up the poor, the humble, and the tortured victims of Empire.  In my experience such a reading is not commonplace in our North American Churches. Usually the advent is rehearsed as a celebration of the mechanical fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. There will be many sentimental performances of the Nativity scene throughout the country this week.  There will be readings from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospels pointing out how Jesus ‘fulfilled’ prophecy.  There will be little mention of the very real historical situation of Mary and Joseph’s world.  A world ruled by the Roman Empire.  A world where 5% of the inhabitants owned 95% of the land and resources leaving the scraps to the other 95%.  Where the Romans reigned victoriously over its colonies.  The news of victory called the gospel. 

Are we being called to participate in the story laid out by Mary?   

In our meditation maybe we will remember that Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus were numbered among that 95%.  That these were folks who lived in the forgotten places of Empire.  In a word, baby Jesus was born in what would be a historical parallel to the ghetto.  It would take a book to lay out the development of ghetto life in connection to North America’s imperial reality. The story of Jesus’ birth tells us that Mary gave birth to him in a manger.  A manger was the last place a person would want to have a baby.  It would have been extremely unsanitary for a new born child.  We have heard this all before.  We get it.  Jesus was born of low estate.  What of today?  What are the parallels today?  If Jesus were to be born in our time and place locus imperiium where would he be?   

He would have been born in the cut 

What is the cut you may ask?  The cut is a space between houses in the projects (i.e. the ghetto).  It is a space where all kinds of inhumane illegal activities take place.  It is also a space where the homeless sleep.  A landscape of broken crack pipes, heroine needles, nihilism, despair, and many other domestic symptoms of Empire.  It is a space in the urban imagination, at least mine, where you are reminded that this is a forgotten place.  A place at the bottom.  But even in the midst of the bottom and despair resides hope and community.  It is not completely overtaken by nihilism and the many other leftovers of Empire.   

I believe Jesus would have been born in the cut.  The Word of God, God Incarnate, King of Kings, Lord of lords, Emmanuel would have been born in a space we drive by everyday in our gentrifying communities.  Those spaces we either know nothing about or care little for.   

Is this where your imagination takes you when you celebrate Advent?  If not, then I am afraid your imagination has been disciplined more by the story of Empire than that of the Advent. It is truly a subversive thought:  the salvation of the world came from the cut!

   

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Advent Reflection: Deviants, Vigilantes and Empire

 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” Matthew 2: 16-18

“The new cultural and institutional systems of Empire support a monopolization of resources by the ruling elites, whose lives become concerned in competing with one another for the top positions in the dominance hierarchy. Because power struggles are continuous and often treacherous, relationships commonly feature a substantial element of distrust, fear, and duplicity. Fear is Empire’s friend, as it creates a psychological need for certainty, control, and structured relationships that motivates acquiescence by those below.” – David Korten, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community

Thought:  When the present/established order is challenged it recourses to violence, coercion, and labeling to squelch the alternative voice, perspective and practice.  In the context of North American Christianity establishment forms of Christianity are adept at using fear (e.g. believing such and such will lead you down the slippery slope to relativism and hell) and using the word heretic.  A survival function of establishment Christianity is to label serious challenges or what is perceived to be a threat as ‘heresy’.  This is a quick way, it is thought, to disregard a troublesome expression of Christian faith.  History teaches us that establishment Christianity is normally blinded by its own epistemological and moral totalitarianism.  It cannot see its own crumbling from the inside-out.  As it dies on the heap of its own rigidly structured world it sends out assasins to eliminate the threat to its existence.  It sends out what New Testament scholar Bruce Malina calls vigilantes: Vigilantism is establishment violence against a person or persons successfully labeled as deviant by some moral entrepreneur in the community for the purpose of maintaining prevailing values…The object of vigilantism is to eliminate deviant behavior. –  The Social Gospel of Jesus (p.57)

Thought: Apparently, Jesus was not a part of the establishment.  According to the establishment of Jesus’ day he was a heretic and a theological deviant.  

Reflection:  While many Christians feel compelled to maintain the center I find it interesting that Jesus worked primarily in the periphery.  The coming of baby Jesus was not received with joy by those in the establishment…by those that held the power to name what was and what was not orthodox.  Herod and Company’s orthdoxy was driven by fear and a particular kind of certainty that did not have room for the deviance of Jesus and his rag-tag group of disciples.  Jesus’ deviance was perceived to be a grave threat.  So much so that Herod had every little boy killed in Jesus’ town.  He shot wide of the mark hoping to squelch and kill the deviance.  This Advent season has me asking myself: will I be a vigilante…or a deviant? 

Advent Reflection: Comfortable with Distance

FIRE FROM HEAVEN

This picture was reproduced, with others, in the book ‘The Wonder of the Christian Story’. They formed part of an exhibition on display in St Pauls Bookshop, London, in Autumn 2001. All illustrations, text and design on this web-site are copyright © Radiant Light 2003 – 2006.

Fire descends on high in the shape of a lion

Burn the sacrifice of pride and ride on to Mount Zion

Matisyahu, song “Fire Of Heaven / Altar Of Earth”
from the album Youth

Yet, most strangely, and from deeps not before discovered, his faith looked up; before the wickedness that he saw, the wickedness from which he fled, he yet beheld, like a flaming standard in the middle of the air, that power of redemption to which he must, till death, bear witness; which, though it crush him utterly, he could not deny; though none among the living might ever behold it, he had beheld it, and must keep the faith.

James Baldwin from Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38

Heading into the third Sunday of Advent.  Two candles lit thus far.  The thought that keeps reoccuring to me:  you are too comfortable with distance.  Is this not true?  Do we become comfortable in our distance from the fire of heaven?  Lord knows I do!  As I reflect on God, heaven, fire-coming down to earth, incarnation, etc. I realize that God is never distant.  I am the distant one.  God is always near but we are oftentimes far away.

My conversation partners for this advent have been the unlikeliest of collaborations: a Jewish Hasidic rapper, a prophetic literary giant, and a devout little girl.

Advent Prayer:

Too many words sometimes.  Not enough ‘wait on the Lord’.  The Lord is coming.  Thy kingdom come.  Bring your fire from heaven to light this dark night of the soul.  Bring water to barren places.  Pour out mercy and justice to the vulnerable.  Let your light shine through me.  Lord, my God, bringer of shalom let my family, friends, and the strangers I meet on the street see your fire from heaven.  Let it burn away the chaff in my soul, in my neighborhood, my state, my country, and your planet.  The chaff of indifference, greed, materialism, and idolatry.  Your will be done Most High.  Amen

 

Happy Birthday Dr. King!

As we celebrate your birthday I just wanted to let you know that I thank God for your sacrifice…and you allowing the Son to give us a glimpse of racial and economic justice through your and many others’ efforts.  Your work in the cities and streets of America give true meaning to Epiphany.  May we keep that fire burning…may we manifest the Son like you did in our churches and our communities.  May our lives reveal a glimpse of the Son’s victory over the powers of race and class in the many ways they can counter the shalom of God’s kingdom. 

Back in the Saddle: The Christian calendar, God’s invasion, and the kenosis of Christ

I have been inspired by both the Advent and Christmas seasons to be more committed to blogging with greater consistency and frequency.  I am looking forward to celebrating Epiphany that will be coming up the first week of January. 

Lately, I have been reading up on the Christian calendar.  I became a Christian in a Christian tradition that either ignored or cared little about the Christian year.  I am becoming more appreciative of the rhythms of following a time that is attempting to walking out the gospel narrative in the everyday.

During Advent and the beginning of the Christmas season the Incarnation of God in Christ has captured my imagination.  Especially the kenosis or self-emptying of God to become the Word- or Logos-made-flesh.  The Divine solidaritization of God (Note: I previously had ‘condenscenion’ but a friend of mine reminded me that God becoming incarnate was more about God coming into solidarity with humans) speaks profoundly to me as I reflect upon how racialized our imaginations are in our North American context.  Paul says (in Philippians 2), regarding the kenosis or self-emptying of Christ, that:

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
 6Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 7but made himself nothing,
      taking the very natureof a servant,
      being made in human likeness.

The incarnation of Christ is the kenosis of God.  It is the shedding of privilege. And coming to a place of soldarity with His creatures.  And Paul says that we are to have the same attitude or mind of Christ in this regard.  What would this mean for Christians who have been enslaved by the ‘principality’ of white privilege and for Christians who have been enslaved by the ‘principality’ of self-hatred. 

Enslavements that are a product of un-righteous or un-just social-political-ecclesial relations. Such enslavements have a long history in the American Church.

What would it mean for Christians during both Advent and the Christmas season to practice kenosis (a radical solidaritization) in our racialized world? 
 

 

 

  

 

 

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