by Revd Jessie Anand, United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG) Chaplain London, UK
A peace maker from an insignificant place
This passage talks about how the insignificant will become significant in God’s reign. Even the insignificant can be used in God’s creative act of Peace on earth.
This passage talks about the ruler of Israel who was born in Bethlehem, which was an insignificant place.
Old Testament history says that when the land was divided by Joshua between the twelve tribes, Bethlehem was not one of the 115 towns and villages which were named in the list. He didn’t even mention Bethlehem. Although Bethlehem was the ancestral home of King David, apparently Jerusalem was regarded as the city of David and therefore Bethlehem was still regarded as an insignificant place.
When we look at the present world, conflict over land is still a big issue for many people whether they live in rural or urban areas. Eventually the situations that arise from such issues damage people’s harmonious relationship with one another among their family and friends. We can hear the stories from many people who were denied their rights in the distribution of land whether by their families/siblings/friends, due to age, gender, class or creed. It is one of the important Environmental issues too.
When we look at the Environmental problems of 2021 described by present Economists and Environmentalists particularly in the context of today’s difficult times, they talk about many problems. The list includes poor governance, food waste, bio diversity loss, plastic pollution, deforestation, air pollution, global warming from fossil fuels, melting Ice Caps and sea level rise, ocean acidification, food and water insecurity and particular agricultural practices. These are all major contributors to damaging the environment, but they all arise due to our lack of care for the land where we live. Micah prophesised a person (Jesus) who would be born in an insignificant and disregarded place and yet His nature would be that of bringing peace into the world.
How do we consider and create a space where grassroot-level communities are truly represented, so that their realistic voices are heard in our gatherings about safe-guarding the Earth? Where do we start to discuss issues or make peace so that we can safeguard the earth?
Micah prophesised, “If the Assyrians come into our land and tread upon our soil, we will raise against them seven shepherds and eight installed as rulers”.
How do we become shepherds and rulers to guide amongst the land issues today?
Christ is our peace, He rules our hearts and He makes us to be peacemakers wherever we are.
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. (Psalm 8:4 b and 8b)
This Psalm speaks of God as Israel’s Shepherd. Many Commentators described this psalm as a communal lamentation. The psalm was written after the Assyrian conquest of Northern Kingdom. It is like a communal prayer too. When conflict arises and utterly changes the ruling system in a nation, many people are affected, and many become vulnerable as refugees and displaced people. They have first-hand experience of suffering along with the place where they live, and so the whole creation is affected. But this Psalm reminds us that we need to create a communal prayer to address the issue not only politically but spiritually, in order to have healing within us and around us. This Psalm reminds us during this Advent season to be mindful of knowing the unspeakable political and social depression which is around us. It opens our eyes to see the depression which is created due to our senseless and uncaring behaviours in life, and encourages us to offer a hopeful and watchful prayer as a community wherever we are:
Lord, show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
Living sacrifice to sustaining our Christian life
The reading from Hebrew reminds us that “He comes into the world”. He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me “. Christ’s birth and His life are the signs of His sacrifice to redeem the whole world. This passage talks about His life and focuses on His obedience, His holiness and His sacrifice. “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”. Jesus’ sacrifice involved both His will and His body, both His mind and flesh. We receive His holiness when our consciousness is cleared and when we Worship Him. The real transformation happens within us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and when we are transformed by Him through worshipping Him. Paul wrote to Romans asking What is the real worship?
“… I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship”. (Romans 12:1).
Living sacrifice takes us to have Christ’s transforming attitude towards human beings and all creation. It enables us to exhibit Christ’s redemptive power in our daily life journey. Paul writes “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
Offering our bodies as a living sacrifice will lead us as children of God and that will help us to have our connection with one another and with all creation and to know the will of God and to fulfil His purpose in our lives.
When God created heaven and earth he gave dominion over the creation. Because of human beings’ fallen nature His whole creation has gone into devastation and pain. Jesus bridges the gap between heaven and earth through His life, death and resurrection.
Our continuous sanctification through worshipping Him encourages us to have eagerness to heal the pain of the whole creation and to do Christ’s will. We as followers of Christ can be bridge-builders with Christ’s love to create relationship among ourselves and not to abuse all creation.
Luke 1.39-45 [46-55]: Reflection from the Mary’s Visitation and Magnificat
Mary’s expression and experience in her spiritual journey:
a) Contemplative act of Mary the mother of Jesus & Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist
Mary as a virgin and Elizabeth as a barren woman experienced their spiritual journeys differently. As soon as Jesus’ birth was announced to Mary by Angel Gabriel, Mary’s reaction was an excellent one which Luke has described in his Gospel. Many artists contemplated this incident and expressed it through their different art works over the centuries. Mary’s reaction to Angel Gabriel “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” made her make a pilgrim journey to meet her cousin Elizabeth at her house. John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth, after many months of her contemplative journey, told the public on his 8th day that he was to be called John. The experiences of these two excellent women resonate with the contemplative spirit that filled their lives. They remind us we are pilgrims in our journey. The life on earth gives us a pilgrim journey to those who made connection with the Lord. Mary and Zachariah were blessed with God’s promises to them. Zachariah shared the promises to his wife Elizabeth and Mary visited her cousin to rejoice together with these divine actions in their lives. How do we contemplate God’s promises in our lives? How do we maintain God Talks amongst us? Generally, divine intervention is everywhere and it is available at all times for those who trust Him and those who have eagerness in Divine relationship. It strengthens everyone to see that in the environment where we live we are not alone. If we have ears we can listen to the birds singing, the blowing of unseen winds through the branches and leaves in the plants and trees, and through them we recognise the mighty act of God’s ongoing creation and how there is growth through living creatures and newcomers in this world even while the babies are growing in their mothers wombs. Here the 2 mothers contemplate the fruits in their womb and the fulfilment of what was spoken to them. Their whole beings contemplate not just their real-life situation but their divine recognition that goes beyond self-centredness. They see the divine act clearly and how they are partners in God’s action to fulfil God’s redemption of the humanity. Mary’s greetings, Elizabeth’s experience with the baby, John’s actions within her, and the blessed and appreciated words expressed to Mary, solely came out of their contemplative experiences. The world we live in is offering many more opportunities for contemplation and to express divine actions in our lives. The Biblical narratives we listen to during Advent are not an exception to contemplation. They help us to do what is right in God’s sight to safeguard our surroundings with proper expression and appreciation, and to glorify God and strengthen one another.
b) Communal song can be sung from the Magnificat
All blessings come from the Lord. When Mary heard the blessings from Elizabeth she expressed her wisdom to lift up the Origin of her blessings. Her soul magnifies, her spirit rejoices and her physical status affirms God’s mercy within her and in all the generations in the world. There is no doubt our individual life experiences lead to communal blessings. To take care of the earth, the first step goes into our self-consciousness about who we are and how we take care of our lives through practising simple and sincere daily life-styles. In a changing world each one of us has a responsibly to be aware of our own self so that it will be a blessing in the world. We are surrounded by many communal efforts, in the family and in society, to take care of this planet, and they all need to start from individual efforts, thinking about and acting on questions such as what and how much “I am consuming, wasting and recycling food, reducing the carbon” and so on. Our sensible efforts daily will lead us to sing communal praises. It will lead ourselves to look at how we can be a blessing from generation to generation. The COP 26 is a communal effort. We have a hope that the impact of COP 26 still radiates the individual voices from young people, indigenous people, vulnerable children and mothers from the grassroot level, which needs to be endorsed at all levels through present and future courageous songs from generation to generation. For fulfilling this, like Mary we will say the “Mighty one has done great things and His mercy will be from generation to generation for those who fear Him”.
c) Courageous witnesses from Mary to build God’s kingdom
Mary remembered the announcement of the Angel, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”.
She courageously declares His kingdom through her singing.
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” She acknowledges courageously the nature of God’s Kingdom which has justice, peace and dignity and it is different from the kingdom of this world which has personal pride, oppression, class and other divisions, injustice and peaceless strategies.
The Magnificat expresses how the new Kingdom of God affects individual pride, the class system and political power, and also how the Kingdom of God and the values of God’s kingdom, from the past to the present, help the lowly servants of His people to remember His promises of His mercy forever.
How do we imagine the world of the new Kingdom established by Jesus? The world is affected by pandemic and natural disaster and it has many opportunities to establish His kingdom within and around us. Our baptism reminds us we have a call to share the love of God through the words of Jesus and to encourage people to think and reflect on the divine encouragement given to people who were partakers in Jesus’ birth. Do not worry. You are not alone – God has a great purpose in each one’s life. We are called to encourage the earth itself to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. We encourage people to be strengthened by the promises given to Noah. We equip the people to take the responsibility to raise their voices to work for Eco-justice. We motivate people with the teaching of Jesus to look at the birds and flowers so as to understand the love and care of God and we practice the love and care among those who are strangers, problem-makers, needy people of all ages, refugees, and the abandoned and oppressed. Jesus’ love and care from His life and teaching are needed to remind us of the mercy of God from the Magnificat. Creation in all seasons can teach us the ever-living presence of Christ. Mary sang, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Christ’s birth reminds us that we need to take that courage and good understanding from the prophecies and promises given to our ancestors.
Contemplation, communal singing and courageous witnesses to Christ’s ever-living presence will strengthen us to lead and celebrate Christ’s sacrificial life with more Hope, love and peace within us and around us. Amen
by Revd Jessie Anand, London, UK