To provide you with a full complement of resources, the next installment of The Immediate Word offers two main articles – one primarily addressing a Fourth Sunday of Advent text, and another focusing on the Nativity.
For the Advent 4 piece, team member Leah Lonsbury will address the well-known Magnificat text. While on the surface we are drawn in by its joyful tone and its keen insight about God completely upending the human order of things, Leah reminds us that there’s much more going on in this passage -- after all, Mary’s outburst comes from an unwed teenage mother... who despite Joseph's steadfast support fits the stereotype of someone who is a social outcast.
As Leah points out, there are many different view in our society toward those who are pregnant -- especially as the large-scale introduction of women into the labor force in the last half-century has made women working while they are pregnant a common phenomenon. But as a case argued before the Supreme Court last week indicated, in numerous cases pregnant women still face a significant risk of losing their jobs. Leah examines what this controversy indicates about our attitude toward women, especially those of “lowly” station -- especially in light of Mary’s viewpoint as described in the Advent 4 and Christmas scripture texts.
For Christmas Eve, team member Dean Feldmeyer looks at vv. 10-14 of Luke’s nativity account, in which the angel tells the frightened shepherds: “Do not be afraid... I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people... Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” At its core, this is the Christmas message -- the birth of the Messiah trumps all of our fears and brings peace to a troubled world. But as Dean suggests, that flies in the face of our current headlines -- which are dominated by fear, and which we use to justify all sorts of harsh measures as we seek to find security. The list goes on and on... fear generated by 9/11 and the horrors of Islamic terrorists used to justify sadistic (and ineffective) CIA interrogation tactics; fear generated by the daily threats policemen face used to justify aggressive tactics like chokeholds, racial profiling, and the shooting of a young boy brandishing a toy gun; fear of an Ebola pandemic used to justify excessive quarantines of entire populations (and that’s just a few examples that have dominated recent news). But as Dean reminds us, the angel’s tidings contain a deeper message beyond a traditional story that we read anew each year. No matter how intimidating our fear or how dispiriting the great evil in the world, the birth of the Savior reveals to us that a much greater power has been unleashed, which in the long arc of human history will conquer the darkness in our lives.
Here’s a preview of both pieces:
UPS and Mary: A Story of Delivery
by Leah Lonsbury
The Magnificat shows up this week as the primary psalm selection for Advent 4. High church traditions know it well as a familiar canticle text, and famous composers have taken it up as the subject of scores that soar heavenward. And yet, once we get past Mary’s joyous outburst about how God turns the human order of things upside-down, there is something else that remains.
It’s clear this peasant, an unwed teenage mother, has known what it means to be trodden on and held in low esteem. Mary checks all the boxes for the type of person society loves to discriminate against -- in her day and in ours. Mary’s song is full of exuberance about the rich and powerful being brought down and the poor and lowly being lifted up, because she’s always been on the bottom rung of the ladder. That is particularly true now that she’s pregnant and unwed. Her song resonates with women across the ages, because not much has changed about the way society views women’s lives and bodies, particularly when they are pregnant.
Just last week, a case argued before the Supreme Court indicates that women still face significant obstacles when pregnant and for many years thereafter, especially in a culture where the primary breadwinner in 40% of households is now a female. This case and this court, whose conservative majority Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg accuses of having a “blind spot” when it comes to women’s rights, will surely be watched closely by the tens of millions of women and their families who could be affected when it comes to decision time.
If God has looked upon Mary’s “lowliness” with favor and decided everything should be different, when will we? The world’s women are waiting to join Mary’s song of celebration.
by Dean Feldmeyer
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
Really? Fear not?
Easy for you to say. You’re an angel. You don’t have to live down here where danger lurks around every corner and hides in every shadow.
You don’t have to live with the threat of Ebola, or al-Qaida, or ISIS or ISIL or whatever they’re calling themselves today. You didn’t see the towers fall like we did. And you don’t have to wonder if those kids coming down the block are just some rowdy teenagers having a good time, or a bunch of gangbangers looking for a victim. You don’t have to try to figure out if the gun that kid is holding is a real one or a toy. You don’t have to worry about some crazy person with a gun going into your kids’ school. And you don’t have to worry that your child is going to be arrested for “driving while black.”
Don’t tell me not to be afraid. There’s plenty to be afraid of out there.
If you don’t believe me, you’re just not paying attention. Listen to the evening news. They’ll set you straight. Fear is an altogether appropriate response to the world we live in. Only a fool isn’t afraid these days.
If you’re going to tell me to “fear not,” the next thing out of your mouth had better be some good news -- some really good news, in fact.
So whatya got? Whatya got that’s going to allay my fear? Whatya got that’s going to give me peace and courage and hope on this Christmas Eve?
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