(Lectionary for December 17, 2017 Advent 3)
Last night (Dec.4, 2017), I attended a meeting with representatives of three California members of the US Congress, two members of the House of Representatives and one Senator. All three of these members are proclaimed progressives, and almost completely opposed to the work of the current administration in Washington. On every issue discussed, from climate change to immigration to the huge tax bill currently having passed the House and the Senate, these professional congressional staffers spoke eloquently and forcefully against the current drift of the primarily Republican agenda. One comment struck me with special force. The representative of Senator Feinstein, the oldest member of the Senate and a six-term legislator from my new state, summed up what is happening in the political world of 2017. “When we move up from individual legislative actions, what we find are two competing views of the world. One view assumes that those who have much should have more in order to help those who have little. The other view is that those who have little should receive more help from a society that is based on fairness and equality. As often as the former view has prevailed, those who have little end up having less while those who have more continue to have even more.” In short, tax bills are more that economic instruments; they are certainly moral documents.
The Bible’s continuous and eternal promise is that YHWH, the God of Israel, along with Jesus of Nazareth, proclaimed by his followers as YHWH’s unique son, are both advocates of the way of justice. That is, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, when the politicians have ceased their bloviating and are finally silenced, justice will be the arbiter of all earthly action. “For I, YHWH, love justice; I detest burnt offerings accompanied by robbery” (Is.61:8). The prophet tosses that last line into the oracle to suggest that no amount of religious chicanery, no grand worshipping practice, when it is not motivated by justice, but rather by greed, will be allowed to defeat the cause of justice. In today’s political climate, any number of supposedly religious people support policies that favor the few at the expense of the poor. But the eternal promise of God is that justice will prevail, and that the poor and the marginalized will be protected and filled, and that “the rich will be sent away empty,” as Mary’s powerful Lukan prayer proclaims.
The fact that Luke records Jesus’ inaugural sermon in his hometown of Nazareth as based on Is.61:1-4 makes the point as clearly as it can be made. “The spirit of YHWH is upon me,” he reads from the scroll of the day, “because YHWH has anointed me and sent me to preach good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” Jesus’ work is directed to the outcasts of his society, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the slaves, the prisoners; he is not called to speak to the rich, affirming the rightness of their wealth, comforting them with the idea that their wealth is theirs by some divine right, that they have been blessed by God to live in vast homes, and drive luxury cars, and to vacation in exotic locations, flown there on private jets. He concludes that day’s sermon with the words, “Today this scripture (from Isaiah 61) has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And at that, his hearers, his former friends and neighbors, change their tone from admiration to fury, and try to murder the preacher for his outlandish words, words they take, rightly, as an indictment against many of them.
Despite the fact that on every other occasion when such an economic miracle has been tried: just before the great depression of 1929, just before the enormous economic slowdown of the late 1980’s, just before the Great Recession of 2008-2011, that is the policy of tax cuts for the wealthy with the hope of great good things for all, it has failed miserably. There is no reason whatever to imagine it will work this time either. But here we go again. This is by no stretch of anyone’s imagination a policy driven by justice; it is a policy based squarely on greed, too often trumpeted from actual pulpits as the solution to the policies of the previous president who has been made out to be the devil in thin disguise in all things.
But still, the eternal promise of this Christmas and every Christmas is the promise of justice for all, equity for everyone, equal access to the goods and services of the society. Isaiah announces, as so many of his predecessors announced from Amos to Micah to the first prophet named Isaiah, that the word of God is always and forever justice and that those who act on greed, who forget their poor neighbors and their captive friends, will in the end fail. Christmas is not about larger presents, a Lexus in the driveway, a jaunt to Tahiti to escape the winter, a bigger stock dividend to fill the stocking. Christmas is about justice, pure and simple, and those who refuse to see that are plainly not following the way of YHWH or the way of Jesus. Justice is the eternal promise, and may we this Christmas live out the way of justice in all we do.
(Images from Wikimedia Commons)