I was prepping a teaching I am going to be doing next week on the Advent Conspiracy when I felt compelled to stop and reflect on what I was reading. There was this overwhelming urge for me to process what I was discovering. There is quite literally no one around right now for me to talk to so writing into the void is the next best thing. This post is me getting a chance to "think out loud."
Advent Conspiracy is an attempt from a few pastors (though it has grown much bigger) to get back to the radical roots of the Christmas story. How did the story of God coming down as a helpless baby to a poor and oppressed people to set them and the rest of humanity free from the bondage of sin get turned into a season of mass consumerism?
A great question.
Anyway, in the book they wrote, one of the first things they do is talk about Mary, Jesus' mother. She kind of jumped of the page. She jumped and started going somewhere, so I followed her. Mary made me remember that though there are many aspects to the story of God's redemption, one that we often forget in the wealthy west is the socio-political.
Mary was a young middle-eastern teenager of an oppressed and poor people. She grew up in a religious culture that had deep roots and affected almost every aspect of life. There was a foreign superpower occupying her country trying to bring their version of peace to her people by means of overwhelming military might. In her culture, at the time that Gabriel announced to her what would happen, she was about as powerless as a person could be.
Sometimes I like to think about who certain characters in the Gospels would be if the story were told in our day. Zaccheus becomes the leader of a prostitution ring and the pharisees become, well, me most of the time but that is another story.
But tonight, Mary didn't change. I think it is totally appropriate to think of her as a young, unwed teenager in our culture. Tonight, in 2009, she was a young middle-eastern teenager of an oppressed and poor people. She grew up in a religious culture that had deep roots and affected almost every aspect of life. There was a foreign superpower occupying her country trying to bring their version of peace to her people by means of overwhelming military might.
Maybe the only thing that changed was the location. She moved from Nazareth to a village outside of Baghdad.
Mary is still around today. The similarities of the story are undeniable. If it happened again today, it would not surprise me to learn that it happened in Iraq.
But that puts me in an awkward position if I want to put myself into the Christmas Story.
I am not a Shepherd.
I am not a Magi.
I am not Joseph.
My country is occupying Mary's country. My country is trying to impose (for good or ill. Time will tell) its own version of peace primarily through the use of its military.
That makes me a citizen of Rome.
The people of Rome were totally oblivious to the birth of Christ. How would they have known? They were focused on the emperor. He was the Son of God to them. He was their hope. He was their salvation.
The only way a Roman citizen would begin to understand the significance of the birth of Christ would be to go to Israel. They would have to learn about the history of the Jewish people. They would have to choose into the suffering of those people (a difficult thing to do as they were largely responsible for it; they and people like them through history) to get a sense of the longing for redemption.
A curious sense of dread sets in. We have a god over here in America too. No, I don't think it is the president. He doesn't have the kind of power that Caesar had. I think our god is consumerism. Our consumerism oppresses people all over the world. We have no idea what we are doing. I am sure many of the normal citizens of Rome had no idea of what they were doing either.
If I really want to understand this story I claim to be true, then do I have to intentionally seek out the poor and oppressed? That seems to me to be the place where all the significant parts of the story play out.
That's where Mary is. That's where Jesus was born.
Why do I think that Jesus was born in that manger and then moved into the suburbs to hang out with rich comfortable people?
What story do I really believe? What story I am living? Am I worshiping Caesar or Jesus? Who is Lord?
I could probably go on for a while. This is only the beginning of the conversation and the process. There is so much more to say and so many things I totally didn't even bring up so I am going to stop here.
That is where Mary led me tonight. Thanks Mary. I needed that. What next?