December 16, 2008

Revolution Now!

by Joel James Shuman
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89 (Luke 1:46-55); Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38 (The Fourth Sunday of Advent)

The excitement, celebration, and anticipatory hope for change attending the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States has in recent weeks been replaced in the public eye by another image – that of bankers, brokers, and corporate executives sitting before members of Congress and the mass media warning us in language reminiscent of Revelation 6 that the world is on the verge of collapse and that unless the American people, via our faithful servants in Congress, give them hundreds of billions of dollars, we face the imminent specter of horsemen bearing war, famine, pestilence, and death.

These are perilous, even apocalyptic times, warn the persistent, cacophonic blare from the talking heads on our televisions and radios. Lives are at stake. Jobs are at stake. Homes are at stake. Pensions are at stake. Stock options and executive bonuses and corporate jets are at stake. And unless the wisdom of the Armani-suited sages is heeded, everything could come crashing down, right on top of our overextended heads. Time is short. For God’s sake, give us the money so we can fix this thing!

Maybe. My knowledge of finance and macroeconomics is rudimentary at best, and not even the experts can agree on what nefarious forces have colluded to bring about the crisis. I have no wish to make light of the real suffering that has already occurred and the more that is bound to come, especially to those at the bottom of the pile, but one thing that seems perfectly clear is that we are reaping the harvest of our collective greed. Acquisitive desire, the engine of a consumer economy, may well be limitless, but at some point, at least in a finite world of finite resources (like the one we inhabit, for instance), that desire will exhaust the supply of things to consume. We seem rapidly to be approaching that point of reckoning. Things will need to change. Things must change.

From this perspective, these are bleak times indeed. But there is comfort to be taken in this week’s lectionary from the words of a young Galilean woman, who proclaimed in the midst of times much bleaker than our own the imminent arrival of radical change – what the late John Howard Yoder called “The Original Revolution,” the coming of God to live among his people, making possible for us a new way of living together. This is revolution indeed, for it challenges at every point the logic of the existing order. This is a revolution that begins with the birth of a child, in a cave, to a poor, unwed teenager – defenselessness upon vulnerability upon ostensible irrelevance. And yet it is a revolution that points, we are told, to the restoration of all creation.

It is a revolution that begins with the scattering of the proud in the thoughts of their hearts and the bringing down of the powerful from their thrones.

It is a revolution that promises the lifting up of the lowly, the filling of the hungry with good things, and the sending away of the rich, empty.

It is a revolution that fulfills an ancient promise, a promise of an endless, peaceable kingdom free from every kind of pain, suffering, want, and injustice.

It is a revolution whose time had come in the days of Mary and Jesus, and has come again, in this season of Advent. God invites us to take part in this revolution, to help make it happen by living as if it were here, now. That partaking begins with our re-membering our baptism and all it represents. It is time. Revolution now. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

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