My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!
This refrain comes from one of my favorite Advent hymns. It is based upon the Magnificat, or Mary’s song, from the gospel of Luke (and some of the scriptural words, from Luke 1, are in the photo above).
Before the Savior is even born, his mother can feel Christ’s purpose bubbling up inside of her the way many composers can hear the strains of melody simmering in their soul long before they are ever on paper. It is a powerful theme – God’s message to the world, that is. It speaks of toppling those in power from their thrones and finally giving equity to the oppressed and forgotten of the world.
Indeed, the fires of God’s justice do burn. Especially in this world.
In the beginning, those who followed Christ’s were an unlikely band of misfit outcasts. They stood for everything that the structures of the world stood against – radically inclusive love, giving voice and value to the world’s downtrodden, and the infinite potential of God’s life-giving grace. Those in power when Jesus was alive stood for commanding strength and wealth for a few, keeping the rest of the people in their place, and maintaining the status quo.
When the church began, as the followers of One who stood against such constraining rule, and who had actually been killed because of that stance, it lived behind the scenes. It sought to make the world better from the ground up, rather than the world’s method: from the top down. And the church remained close to Christ’s radically loving heart.
But then, the world changed. Those in power converted. Perhaps due to a true change of heart, but more than likely, as history has proven, because with only a few people knowing Christ’s actual words and deeds, those in power could use cherry-picked scriptures and traditions as a new method to maintain the status quo. The church went from being run by the lost and forgotten, to being commanded by the rich and the powerful.
Across the centuries of two millennia, this pattern recurred.
Those who sought to live into Jesus’ actual words and actions would rise like God’s own phoenix jumping out of the grave. First, the powers of the world would attempt to squash them. To kill them. To decimate them. But like the prophets of old, they would find it difficult to stamp out God’s messengers. So, when that wouldn’t work, those in authority would lay claim to a part of the message that was not-too-messy and relatively comfortable. They would affirm that small section of what was God’s radical message meant to shock us from our complicit slumber. They would preserve the prophet’s memory on a pedestal, and wait for the people to forget what really happened.
And then the process would start all over again.
This goes for both the church and worldly powers. All were guilty of crushing those who would dare to challenge the status quo – as Jesus, and God, have always done.
It is an ancient pattern. One predating Jesus’ human life on earth. It is a human pattern. A fallen pattern. One that will keep returning until Christ’s own self arrives on the clouds.
To follow the true Jesus, the one we see in the gospels, it is not an easy path. It means walking in his footsteps. It means standing with the “little” people who the world likes to keep under foot. It means calling out false prophets and martyrs whose only trouble is having their long-held-hate-filled beliefs questioned. It means loving with a reckless abandon that seeks God’s life-giving justice and equity for all people. And yes, it absolutely means challenging the status quo of a world bowling-over in frenzy, poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, bigotry, classism, self-righteous indignation, domineering vengeance, corruption, suppression, and oppression, among many other things.
Listen to the barely-wed, teenage mother’s voice as she cries out across the years. Penniless and considered property, she sings the words of God’s chosen people – not just the descendants of Israel, but the orphans, the widows, the foreigners, the maimed, the forgotten, and the oppressed. Hear her strain rising above the cacophony of the world’s madness again…
From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for God’s justice tears every tyrant from his throne. The hungry poor shall weep no more for the food they can never earn. There are tables spread, every mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.
The real question is: will you join her song and break the pattern?