We Wait for Justice – Advent 4 2020

Luke 1: 46-55.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 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. 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.”

Sermon Text

            Tear it all down. Deep in our hearts, in the deepest moments of our despair we feel those few words, sometimes verbatim and other times given different form. The broken world around us, aspirating under the weight of the compound sin of thousands of generations of humanity. We look at the structures that have been propped up, often against our better sense and our better angels. We see cruelty pass on from one generation to another, the seemingly endless pain caused to those in need by those who have more than they could ever want. We see the injustice of the world and find – sometimes verbatim and other times given different form – the sentiment entering into us, tear it all down.

            Advent is a season of waiting, but it is also a season of penitence and of reflection. As we wait for the return of Christ, and to celebrate the incarnation of Christ in his Holy Nativity, we are supposed to look at the world around us and pray for it to be made right. Likewise, we are supposed to look within ourselves and pray, and work, to set ourselves right. We must seek out all that is wrong within us, we must dig deeper than we ever thought we could and root out evil. That sentiment which we hear in our most desperate moments, “tear it all down,” applies to ourselves as well. When we see how we have let ourselves become covetous or greedy, angry or wicked, when we see all that is wrong with us, we must turn our eyes to Heaven and ask for God to, “tear it all down.”

            That particular language that I am choosing, “tearing down,” is something that I have already said we might have different language for describing. Let me now take a moment to put it other ways. A gardener in a garden who finds weeds choking the life out of their plants must uproot the weed to save the garden. A surgeon treating a disease may need to isolate and purge a portion of the body of whatever infects it. Evil, present in creation, must at time be excised.

            Whatever the language used to describe it, the sentiment that our scripture today touches upon, and that we often feel when faced with the cruel and broken world around us, is that there are things that are wrong in this world, and they need to be dealt with. Sometimes the problems are obvious – personally or systemically. We know that we harbor hatred toward a single person, and so we search our heart to find how to transform our disposition from one of aggression and rage into one of love. We know that a specific policy hurts more people than it helps, and so we campaign to have it altered and for a more just solution to be reached.

            Yet, as with anything, the deeper we dig the more complicated we find the situations we are in. If I dig deep in my heart, I can find that the negative aspects of my personality and my behavior are usually not to do with specific situations or people. If I find myself easily angered by a person, it is rarely because of them specifically – although one cannot deny that some people are just difficult to work with – it is usually because something about them touches a raw spot in my soul. Maybe their mannerisms remind me of someone who hurt me or perhaps I have turned them into a strawman built from an archetype which I had previously constructed for a certain kind of person.

            Whatever the cause, if I do not examine my dispositions and my behavior toward other people regularly, then I may cause a great deal of harm, while all the time thinking that I am only acting naturally. Our conscience, that deep interface of the Spirit and the mind, must be examined constantly to ensure it is still aligned with the work and the will of God, the righteous things of God. Cruelty, spite, hate, arrogance, greed, all manner of other evils, can grow up in the shadows we are unwilling to examine. The unexamined heart is the breeding ground of all evils.

            The Magnificat, the prayer that Mary offers in our scripture today, is one of the most profound pieces of all scripture. Offered by a poor woman struggling to survive in a world that cares nothing for her. Carrying a child who society has written off as illegitimate, engaged to a man who has had his own doubts about the child, living under the oppressive rule of the Roman empire. Mary, at the moment this prayer is recorded in scripture, has gone off to live with her cousin Elizabeth while she prepares to have her child. She escaped her hometown to protect herself, to protect her growing child, to protect the Christ.

            Mary, alone like we can never understand, comes to her cousin, and finds that the stories of her own miraculous pregnancy were true. Her child, who would grow up to be John the Baptist, reacts in utero to the presence of Mary and Jesus, and Elizabeth blesses Mary as the Theotokos, the mother of the enfleshed Deity. Mary, suddenly greeted by her cousin in this manner, is given one final piece of assurance about where she is in life. She truly is the mother of the Messiah, of Jesus Christ the savior of all creation, she is truly not alone, not cursed, not abandoned. She is blessed.

            In a flood of gratitude and prophecy Mary lifts up a song to God. Like us, she is aware of the world being broken around her. She lives as a minority in a backwaters corner of an Empire known for zealous revolutions. She lives as a woman who no one will believe about her child’s parentage. She has been forced away from home to see that her child is taken care of. She has suffered everything you could expect a person could, she has been pushed to the extreme, and in the same way that we often do, she longs to see all this evil put aside. Yet, her words to God are not, “Tear it all down,” they are, “God is tearing it all down.”

            Every bit of evil in the Universe that has been piling itself up for centuries, God has hands upon and is ripping up at the roots. The axe is set to every tree that has produced poison fruit. The sickness of sin which has long afflicted the hearts of every soul on Earth is now to receive a physician capable of wiping it out for good. Evil is now to be excised from all the Earth.

            The Magnificat is bold in its claims about God. God shows, not just mercy, but covenant loyalty and loving kindness to all generations.[1] God seeks out those who, on account of their self-love have cast others into the cold and scatters them in the same way. God dethrones tyrants who rule by force and puts the humble in their place. God cares for the poor and the hungry and God cuts off the abundance of the rich. The Magnificat is Mary looking at all those who have hurt her – the holier than thou, Caesar and Herod, the nobility that bled her town dry – and when she looks to the blessing of her child, to the Savior she will birth, she suddenly sees how God has turned the world upside down to bring about Justice.

            The coming of Christ, whether in his first Advent in Nazareth or his second Advent at the end of history, is meant to disrupt the world in which we live. A savior comes to save us from all the evils of this world, and that means that a savior comes to do away with all evil. Christ the King must rule alone, not the wicked rulers of our own world. Christ the poor slave will liberate all people born of low estate, even if that upsets those who depended upon them to make their fortunes. Christ the incarnate Deity will conquer all evil in the universe, whether born of humanity or of evil itself. Everything that stands against God and goodness will be torn down. Our prayers to see our present state ended will be answered, of this there can be no doubt.

            However, the Magnificat is not a simple prayer of revenge, nor should any words that leave our lips be. Lifting up our desires to God as we do, our intent should never be destructive, but redemptive. We do not want evil done away with out of spite, not out of anger, we want to have evil done away with so that good may flourish, that God may be seen in all of creation.

            Whether it is evil within ourselves or within the world around us, we must trust as Mary did that God will bring about Justice. We as people of faith believe that God holds all of History in the divine hand. The arm of God is not too short to bring about justice and righteousness, nor can anything overpower God’s work in the universe.  We must not despair, nor give into our own anger or hatred or cruelty. In all things we must trust that God will topple all evil and that the end of all things will set straight any crookedness that has gone unchecked.

            Still, we do what we can to promote Justice in the here and now. Not through the taking up of arms or inciting violence, but through prayer and petition, through acts of mercy and of love. We must champion the oppressed, we must champion truth, we must champion the causes of God in all the world. We must love the stranger in our land, the poor at our doorstep, the enemy that spits in our face, and we must strive in all things to work alongside our God who is setting things right.

            This Advent has been different than any we have celebrated before. This year has been a bunch of ups and downs that has shown us every weakness within ourselves and in the world that we live in. Pushed to the edge, forced to live in situations we never would have even dreamed of before. I hope that we stare at the accumulation of all our unwillingness to do right, at all our accumulated sin, at all the towers of injustice and scarcity we have seen, and we cry out for God to tear it all down.

            Because from the ashes of the Towers and of the Asherah we have built against God will be born the promise of a new day. The hope of all ages emerging out of all the brokenness we cannot even give words for. From Bethlehem, in Judea, a light is shining dimly for all the world to see. Look now, let your heart be made glad in its weeping, Christ is coming soon. – Amen.

[1] The Greek word used for mercy in the Magnificat, ελεος, is used in Greek translations of the Old Testament to translate חֵסֵד which is a word used to describe God’s loyalty, love, and mercy toward members of the Covenant.

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