For to Us a Child Is Born
In this fourth and final Sunday of Advent, Rev. Joanne discusses the consciousness of humanity as it relates to the traditional Christmas story. Beginning again in the Book of Isaiah, she takes us to Chapter 8 where the narrative is one of depression, despair, oppression, and hopelessness. We read about the troubles and travails that have befallen the people of Judah because of their turning away from the ways of the Lord.
We then read in Isaiah Chapter 9 words of hope and uplift. The writing is poetic, with references to past kings and battle victories. Reminding the people that God was with them in the past gives them confidence in the truth of words of the prophet Isaiah that God is with them now. In verses six and seven we read of a promise for the future, one that traditional Christian teaching has pointed to as a prophecy of the coming of a savior, who would be Jesus of Nazareth:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7
This passage speaks of a leader who will deliver the people from their oppressors. One who will be wise, powerful, and a bringer of peace. It also says that He will uphold justice and righteousness. It is tempting to view this prophecy, as many at the time of its writing, in the time of Jesus, and the two millennia since have done, as divine permission to impose the will of the chosen upon others.
But not all who read this in the past and read it now take it to mean that. During the tumultuous civil rights movement of the 1960s the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was a leader espousing change by peaceful means. His speeches, sermons and writings are a rich source of wisdom and inspiration for those who wish to continue working to make the world a better place. Rev. Joanne reminds us of a MLK quote about justice – “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It is reasonable to take this statement as one of hope, but may also imply a passive approach. If God’s justice is inevitable, one might ask, then why should we do anything, risk anything, be anything other than what we are now?
Dr. King’s statement was a paraphrase from a sermon written by Rev. Theodore Parker (1810-1860). From Lexington, MA, he was a Unitarian minister and a staunch abolitionist. He believed that God’s justice was inevitable, but did not believe that meant we should do nothing. The passage from which King’s paraphrase comes:
I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.
Just like Martin Luther King, Jr., Parker was not an “all talk, no action” preacher. He lived what he believed at personal risk. He strongly and publicly opposed the Fugitive Slave Act (1850) which required the return of escaped slaves to their owners. He personally helped escaped slaves stay free by smuggling them to safe houses and housing some in his own home. Due to his public statements and personal bravery, and of those who followed his leadership, only two slaves who had reached Boston were returned to their owners between 1850 and the beginning of the Civil War in 1861.
Parker and King were two examples of people living what they believed. They did not wait around for justice to arrive, they went out to meet it. They did not wait for others to do the work, they were leading the way. It is because of such examples of the Old Testament kings, and nineteenth and twentieth century leaders bringing justice to the world, that we can understand why the people in Jesus’ time had a reasonable expectation of him being such a leader. By the time Jesus began his ministry, the Romans had occupied Judea for nearly 100 years. The people were expecting a Warrior King. What they did not understand was that Jesus brought to them something much more powerful than a single person leading an army - self-empowerment.
The Advent season in the Unity tradition is a time for us to reflect on what we have been, what we are now, and most importantly, what we would like to become. The birth of Jesus and his message of faith, strength and hope are reminders to us that we can do and achieve great things through the power of the inborn Christ that is part of us all. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” John 14:12
We may not be living in a time of a foreign force occupying our homeland, a bloody civil war, or the upheaval of a civil rights era, but that does not mean we do not have work to do. Let us unite in peace and not turn on one another, “othering” those with whom we disagree, like The People’s Front of Judea and The Judean People’s Front.1 I reference the classic comedy film The Life of Brian for three reasons. First, it speaks to the people of Jesus’ time expecting a Warrior King as a savior. Second, the film points out the danger of adherence to tribal ideology. If we are unwilling to listen to those with whom we disagree, things will devolve to chaos very quickly. And third, we must retain our sense of humor. We live in serious times with serious challenges, but if we are able to laugh at ourselves we stand a better chance of seeing past nonsense and getting to the heart of the matter.
Advent is a time for reflection and renewal, but we should not wait until December every year to do so. Jesus taught us that we all have the Christ-Spirit in us. We just need to get out of our own way and allow the Divine Presence to guide us.
Now Go and Be the Light.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
In times when humanity disappoints it is an important act to call out, name, and claim the consequences of our wrongs. In times of distress it is a prophetic act to call out, name, and claim our belief in the hope for tomorrow. Transform your thoughts of lamentation into hope:
I believe that (fill in with a lament, a sorrow, a confession) and I believe that (fill in a prophetic word of change).
Example: I believe I do not know how to walk through conflict without “othering,” AND I believe I am capable of learning non-violent ways to communicate and unite.
Example: I believe that I must always be right and force others to see this, AND I believe that opening to new perspectives invites me to see with eyes of understanding and peace.
Create one or two statements of your own. Live into those ideas this week.
1Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979, Orion Pictures