December 15, 2017 by Kyle
Celebrating the advent brings a lot of thoughts to the surface. I’m sitting here trying to multi-task and I just can’t get away from the thought–God ran into the burning building, he jumped in front of a bullet, dove into deep shark infested water to rescue humanity in crisis. This season represents urgency rather than laid back consumerism. Sadly for Western society Christmas represents the peak of capitalism rather than the reversal of oppression. If you get a chance to read Mary’s song in Luke’s gospel you will observe a personal testimony. In the church tradition that shaped me, there was always a time set aside for testimonies. Folks would give their own personal account of God’s victory in their life over the past week. Some would talk about how God showed up in the nick of time to turn the heat back on. Others would share about how He opened a door for a new job, or He put food on the table when there was no paycheck on the way. Isn’t this who God is? He ‘shows up’ in our misfortune and makes a way? Its simplistic, I know, but its so true.
When we consider God ‘showing up’ through a missiological lens we must consider the ramifications of the Christmas story. John’s gospel opens with the Christmas story–“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) The Logos, Jesus the light, shines in darkness. The reality of God stepping into darkness, or stepping into fallen creation in order to establish His rule and reign is Christmas reality. I beg the question to followers of Christ, ‘How should this shape our understanding of mission?’ This is not about a trite declaration that we hear so much, ‘This is what Christmas means to me.’ This is more about Mary describing the reversal of conditions. She praised God because things would change under the Messiah, her son. Her song is very personal as she expresses appreciation that God is attentive and mindful of her condition. (Luke 1:48) She is a humble, but strong woman. She knows of the extent of God’s mercy in her life and is acutely aware that her anonymity would soon end. She is thrust into the spotlight, not of her own doing, but God chose her as a critical link in the Messianic chain.
This Christmas song is not about mistletoe or gift giving or the yulelog. This Christmas song is about the kingdom coming in and reversing the status of those within society who have selfishly held power at the expense of the marginalized. This song is about reversing the impact of gentrification on poor residents, it is about destroying the school to prison pipeline and about fighting for higher wages for those trying to make a living with wages from the 1980’s. It is about reversing the injustice of targeted and outrageous sentences for crack drug charges in the 80’s and 90’s. Mary’s words are eerily on point for where we are at in human history.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:52-53)
The Messiah would remove rulers from lofty places and bring them low–they would be humbled. Not only would folks lose their position and status, but the rich would lose their seat at the table. Mary wasn’t a socialist, but she understood how the kingdom of God worked and she recognized God’s priority for the poor and marginalized. She understood that the incarnation pointed to a kind of kingdom shaped justice.
It is safe to say that Christ is mindful of our condition and he is not only mindful, but He stepped into our disaster and is looking to correct wrongs suffered and bring about peace to those who call Him Lord. In the past months and weeks we’ve observed the #metoo hashtag as an outcry from women who’ve been abused demanding to be understood and taken seriously. Powerful men have dismissed the humanity of women seeing them as sexual objects. When the powerful abuse those under them, God takes note and exercises His justice on the earth.
The mission of Christ ought to be front and center–perhaps if that was the case we would be consumed less by the trappings of this world and more by the reality of kingdom manifestation here on earth. Mary’s excitement helps me to realign myself during this time of the year. My understanding of the mission of God in the world is sharpened–God steps into the danger zone. He goes into Sodom, Egypt, Nineveh, Samaria, Jerusalem, Athens and Rome in order to establish His kingdom reality. I tell people who feel called to go on mission within difficult urban neighborhoods, “there is no safe place on this earth”. If there is a “unsafe” place on earth please know that God is on mission in that place.
If we are disciples of Christ, then we are faced with the choice of whether or not we want to be where God is participating in the reversal of wrongs; this is the choice that all of us are faced with. Maybe we are serving within an established church and suffering is next door or in our midst. Perhaps we’re trying to plant a church in a forgotten place, or maybe we are attempting to reach people who are of a different ethnicity or economic status than us. When we are busy doing this kind of work we are being Christ-like. The Christmas season ought to challenge what we understand missions to mean. The words and work of Christ could best be described as kenotic kingdom work. As Christ veiled His divine nature as He entered dark places, he too calls us to the trenches, the highways, to the wells, the tax collectors house to reach the ‘other.’ My prayer is that Mary’s song reminds us of God’s heart, and how it beats for those on the margins.