Advent Reflection: The Inclusiveness of Jesus
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the bling, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year aof the Lord’s favour.
What an amazing passage and what relevance for Advent and Christmas.
It’s not original to Jesus – he’s quoting Isaiah – the Isaiah manifesto. Jesus is reading Isaiah in His local synagogue at Nazareth, and as he reads, he’s identifying with his hearers’ situation to which Isaiah’s words are so relevant. For like the People of Israel that Isaiah is addressing, the people of Southern Galilee – Jesus’ own people – are under pressure also: they are an occupied people – occupied and ruled by the Romans and their puppets. And these occupiers are expanding, pushing further south with their urbanization – expanding the cities of Tiberias and Sepphoris. So there is the suggestion from John Dominic Crossen and others that this increasing urbanization was squeezing the rural peasants into paying more taxes, taking more of their grazing land to grow more crops for the cities, forcing small farmers off their land to become day labourers for their landlords, and worse, forcing the day labourers into becoming beggars or bandits. No wonder Southern Galileans, experiencing this level of pressure and violence and dislocation, heard Jesus gladly as he read to them Isaiah’s manifesto to the poor and downtrodden.
And then Jesus rolled up the scroll and said to them ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’. In other words, I am here to relate to you in your suffering and to tell you that God cares.
He’s telling them that their God cares and surrounds and includes them in contrast to those who are excluding them.
And in the violent and excluding world in which we live isn’t the message still the same?
Despite the bombs in London and Iraq and wherever. God in Christ is still in those places and still with us
Despite the madness of Mugabe and his henchmen in Zimbabwe, God in Christ is still there and still with us
Despite the violence and warfare of Palestine-Israel and the occupied territories and the daily oppression suffered by so many, God in Christ is still there and still with us
Despite too the grandstanding of certain politicians in our own country, God in Christ is still with us
Despite stresses in our own streets and malls and neighbourhoods and families, God in Christ still embraces us – still includes us
This is what we mean when we say that God in Christ comes among us as happened that first Christmas.
So far, so good, for us today and for the people who heard Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth. But not so good for them or Jesus is what happens next – for in Luke 4 we have Jesus implying that His hearers haven’t been on the ball; that in some ways they really haven’t shaped up enough and that God’s presence has therefore bypassed them and gone to others beyond their kith and kin.
This is such a hard word that the people’s mood suddenly changes and swings violently against Jesus. He’s touched a raw nerve – and they’re as mad and as bad with him as they can be.
And don’t we run the same risk with God and with one another if we allow the sanctity and preciousness of life and creation both locally and globally to deteriorate?
For violence doesn’t usually come out of nowhere unless someone is on ‘P’ or is a psychopath or quite psychotic. Violence generally arises out of a deep discontent, a deep sense of injustice.
So after the bombings of New York or London or wherever, a Bush or Blair or even the Queen stands up and says they are determined to protect ‘our’ way of life, are they only saying they want to protect our comparative freedom and justice, or are they really saying:
We want to maintain our entrenched privilege
And we want to protect our rampant consumption of the worid’s resources
And we are also prepared to kill and maim and murder to get control of the world’s oil and we will do it in the name of God and Queen and country?
But never mind Bush, Blair or the Queen. What of us, of you and me? Are we prepared to sustain the inequalities that mean one in five of our children live in relative poverty?
Are we prepared to tolerate in Aotearoa one of the fastest growing gaps between rich and poor anywhere in the world?
Are we prepared to tolerate the racial intolerance of some of our leaders?
For these are the seeds of division and distortion that lead to social dislocation and anger and violence – that lead to the fundamentalism of Zionism, Christianity, Islam, Fascism, Roundtablism – or whatever.
Yet, we claim to follow Jesus, and we do, but let’s always remember it’s an inclusive Jesus who meets us wherever we are, warts and all; that it’s a Jesus who includes us and accompanies us and takes us forward into an even greater journey and to an even greater inclusiveness, to an even greater peace and justice today, tomorrow and always.
These are easier words to write and say than actually to live out, and yet the Jesus we follow said that His disciples would do even greater things than he.
So what could it mean to live out the Jesus way more fully this Christmas?
Does it mean expanding the Christmas get-togethers this year to include at least one or two loners and outsiders who might otherwise miss out? Jesus certainly put others ahead of his family at times.
Does it mean giving as much away to Christmas appeals for others as we spend on our own Christmans meal and festivities? Jesus was very strong on helping the poor and marginalised as much if not more than we help ourselves.
Does it mean allowing Jesus to be a full-blown God in Christ, an adult presence in our lives every day, rather than a containable infant influence only once a year?
That surely is Advent and Incarnation and Life in Christ in the fullest sense. Let it start at Christmas but for Christ’s sake not finish at Christmas.
This is the Jesus of Christmas Day and every day that we celebrate. This is Advent and Incarnation and Life in the fullest sense.
So be it.
Reverend Brian Turner is the minister at the Co-operating Parish of New Brighton in Christchurch.