By Gary Ashbeck
“Nothing will happen unless people like us believe in God’s promise and base our lives on it’s fulfillment”
Taken from The Times Discipline, by Liz McAlister and Philip Berrigan
As we begin the second week of advent, we are to continue to await fulfilment of the messianic promise that Jesus is bringing. John the Baptist is appearing to us in the gospels this week. His mission was as forerunner. He had people look inward into their souls and repent for their sins and change their ways. People flocked to him in the desert. As a symbol of renewal John would baptize. He also called out people who abused power to an immoral end. Herod and religious leaders were his biggest targets. Herod was his biggest target but it took some time for Herod to finally execute him, and he did so trapped by his ego. He held him in prison for some time and would even go listen to him. In Mark 6:20 It is reported that Herod feared him knowing John to be a righteous and holy man.
The theme for this week of advent is love. We are called to love. We will learn through the scripture how much of Jesus messianic vision was focused on love. His whole sermon on the mount where we get our beatitudes from is focused on how we are supposed to show love. His focus repeatedly is also on the poor, oppressed, the underdog of society. Love is the tool for the messianic promise to take root.
Jesus not only implored us to love but showed love in a variety of different ways. He healed people. He also acknowledged the existence of some people breaking down social class structures. He violated the cleanliness laws to bring humanity to others teaching us that the law was made for people, not people for the law.
In the readings this week both the first reading and the gospel use similar phrasing. “ever lofty mountain shall be made low and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level the ground” “Prepare the way of the lord, make straight the paths, every valley shall be filled and every mountain and fill shall be made low. The winding road shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of god.
These phrases are sandwiched with repeated phrasing “the peace of justice” and “his mercy and justice”. I don’t think these readings are a call for land development. They seem more in line with another form of evening things out that is the messianic promise.
Frequently the high and mighty and the arrogant are called out in the bible as sinful. When a king is appointed over Israel it is not without a warning of how power corrupts. Repeated kings despite starting out on a positive note ended abusing power in their positions. Part of the sermon on the mount a reversal of class structure is preaching.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
The scriptures also show that the very first Christian community that formed after Jesus left the earth was a community of shared resources. The rich step down and the poorer are lifted up.
This is the messianic idea of love. Love everyone, enemies included. Bring them into your community and circle. Treat everyone and every need as holy. I am reminded of a mural in Washington DC that states something like if you look down on someone have your hand outreached to help them back up.
Without love, justice cannot come. Without justice peace cannot come. With a lack of love in our hearts, with an idea in our heads that a race, class or type of person unlike ourselves is inferior, Jesus messianic promise cannot produce fruit.
So how does that work in the real world? I have a couple examples. One is theoretical and one is a life experience. 15 years ago, I started studying economics as it related to trade. This was the time when a lot of attention was being placed on free trade which was pushed by both parties but we were finding examples where it was not democratic, predatory, and undermining of economies to the benefit of large companies and also shuttering the little guys companies as well. One theory presented by Robin Hahnel a professor of Economics at American university was very interesting. After much research he concluded that the best way for globalized trade to work was to provide an unequal advantage to smaller weaker economies in an effort to stabilize, and grow that economy where then they would no longer need that advantage. Then instead of one economy growing at the expense of another, both economies would grow. The larger economy would be taking the burden but that economy would be able to take the difference short term adding incentive to grow the smaller economy as quick as possible so to lessen the burden. It is essentially filling every valley and every mountain shall be made low.
I started with “Nothing will happen unless people like us believe in God’s promise and base our lives on its fulfillment”. John the Baptist’s life was based on Gods promise to be fulfilled.
Years ago, when I was in jail in Georgia, I had made a conscious decision to stay out of the commodity trade and to give without expecting anything in return. I did have the privilege of being able to get as much money placed in my commissary account because people all over the country were offering me help. I considered that to also be a trade that benefited the jail so I stayed out of that as much as possible too. The currency was the honey bun and you could purchase things from other guys with buns. Other things worked as well like parts of your meals.
I didn’t drink the milk so I would just ask the nearest guy if he wanted it. That spread the exchange around to everyone. Keep in mind this also was illegal. You are not allowed to share in jail and I did it blatantly. It really took everyone by surprise and so guys would watch for items I seemed to prefer (a stretch considering these were terrible meals) and would offer me things but in a more casual exchange. It was a gift economy like Ulysses on our street has been doing. The other benefit though was the spirit of it all. I was quickly identified as something different. The other men would come to me to talk and tell me things I know they were not telling anyone else because they trusted me. It helped topple the purposeful actions by the guards to get the other guys to despise me when mail came. I was getting a ton of mail sometimes 15 letters a day. They would come in to pass out mail and read the names loudly off of each letter. My name would be read over and over even though they had bundled them together. I was mortified, but there actually seemed to be some pride that I was with them. I learned so much from guys would had been in Iraq and Kosovo and just how life was for them and who they missed.
Last week was hope that the messianic promise would come take root. This week we are given a tool, love, and think about how we can use it to bring forth the messianic promise in our communities. I attest that love is the only thing that can fulfil the promise.
They will know we are Christians by our love one song goes. Another says we are called to love one another, love tenderly, serve one another, to walk humbly with God.