Isaiah 61: 1,4; Luke 1:51, 52,53
Not business as usual
Last week we talked about roads, about flattening and straightening out the road of society and leveling the playing field. We also talked about the potential crookedness in our soul. Today we talk about texts that do not straighten things out, but turn them on their head. It is a different way of looking at things. They are both valid. When you work on a piece of land you have to worry about the contours and the grading, but you also have to stir and till the soil, plough it in such a way as to bring what is hiding behind the hardpan to the surface. Isaiah speaks of good news to the poor, about building on ruins. Old “devastations” will be raised” again. Mary in her song brings out how she is a lowly woman who becomes powerful. The passages for today echo with a deep hunger for turning the world upside, a hope that things won’t be business as usual. After the fall of the United Kingdom of Israel there has been nothing but suffering for centuries, exile to exile, occupier to occupier. There is a huge hunger for change that gets poured into the joy over the Messiah. If we read the texts over again we can find ourselves. We can sense our own helplessness. In this country alone there is plenty of that and the frustration is experienced in different ways and gets directed to different people, just look at the news in the last few weeks: there are people crying for legal residence status (as well as against it), there are people yelling in distrust at the government, there are people raising their arms in protest at police brutality, there are people livid about abuses of the CIA and of there are people up in arms about the new perks for Wall Street in the congressional budget, Wall Street that always seems to win, partly because we all put our money on it. A sense of helplessness is common ground for all of us. But then comes the story of Mary who is a lowly woman who carries in her the divinely fertilized hope of all helpless people. Hope grows inside of her. Just two days ago the Feast of Guadalupe as celebrated next door. As you may know our neighbor church is a National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On December 9, 1531, a farmer called Juan Diego outside Mexico City had a vision of the Virgin Mary. She gave him Spanish roses that left an image of her on his tilma, or cloak. This happened in a town where there used to be an Aztec goddess worshipped. Novelist Carlos Fuentes said that :you cannot be a Mexican and not believe in the Virgin; Judy King said that the Virgin of Guadalupe is the rubber band that ties together the diverse peoples of Mexico. Writer Octavio Paz said that Mexicans all believe in only two things: The Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery.(see Wikipedia) The Virgin has become the symbol of the helpless and the hopeless in all of Latin America. Miguel Hidalgo and Emiliano Zapata in the war of Independence and the Revolutionary war both rode with Virgin of Guadalupe flags into battle. The Virgin reminds Mexicans that hope will rise again, the lowly will rise and the order of things will be turned upside down. And if you think you’re helpless, just look south.
A mining tycoon from Australia by the name of Glasheen lost all of his millions in a stockmarket crash. His family fell apart. He retreated to some island off the tropical coast of Australia and now lives in a shack, wears no shirts and lives from fishing and growing some simple crops. He still believes in the stockmarket and is eternally optimistic. The actor Russell Crow stopped by on his boat and had dinner with him. Poor and lowly he has become a much more interesting character. His world was turned upside down.
Friends, as Christians we often like our world to be nice and tidy, organized and predictable, but we live in a world where economic and now even climate forces are in constant upheaval. In fact those who want to save our planet are fighting those who want to save the economy. It’s ironic. The Bible has always known that. The only way to get to greatness is through lowliness. We cannot become great people of character unless we are willing to be lowly. We have to get in touch with the lowly inside ourselves. None of us are mighty very long. Our texts say that loud and clear. Ancient Chinese thinker Lao Tzu wrote that” he who wants to shine will not shed light, he who wants to be valued will go unnoticed.” Friends, we can only get to God through an awareness of our lowliness, becoming one with all those who feel helpless in world. We all get our appointment with helplessness at one point or another. God loves those who are helpless, not because God enjoys our suffering, but because they see life without the distractions and the pretense. Mary has it figured out. So does Isaiah. Friends, we spend so much of our life trying not to appear lowly, but lowliness is our true condition. In the awareness of that lowliness we can encounter God. God will transform it into greatness. Thanks be to God.