Monday, 12 December 2011

Sermon for The Third Sunday in Advent - The Year of the Lord's favour

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent 2011

Isaiah 61:1-4; 8-11
1 Thess 5:16-24
Luke 1:46-55

The Year of the Lord’s Favour

“All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all those who humble themselves will be exalted” Luke 18.14

Well I’m not one for taking liberties with the Lectionary as I think that it gives us a broad and varied diet through the year and prevents me spending most of the year focusing on my favourite texts and themes – but today I’ve chosen to change the gospel reading which was to have been a further reading about John the Baptist and substitute the Canticle set which is the Magnificat – for today the third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday, a Latin word which means Rejoice!! And Rejoicing is a Theme that comes through very powerfully in these familiar words of Mary – Of course the theme isn’t entirely lost in the other readings – the prophet Isaiah exults ‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my whole being shall exult in my God!’ And again St Paul 1 Thess 5:16 – a reasonably easy memory verse – Rejoice Always!! – But rejoicing is the continual note of these verses – My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour

But what, we may ask is this rejoicing all about? Well of course the coming of the Saviour is in full view here – but what does this mean you may well ask? Why Rejoice over the coming of Jesus? And here it is Very helpful to look at Mary’s song – and it is worth noting at the outset that it is the last in a long and distinguished line of Songs of triumphant women – from Mirjam, who rejoices that ‘Horse and Rider have been thrown into the sea’ at the catastrophe which befalls the Egyptians – to Deborah who rejoices with Barak over the defeat of the Canaanites – to Hannah, the mother of Samuel  - who rejoices that God has vindicated her against her husbands other wife Peninah by giving her a child. And if we are half awake we will notice that they are all declaring God’s salvation in terms familiar to the prophet Isaiah – declaring ‘The Year of the Lord’s favour, the day of vengeance of our God’. All of these women rejoicing in the overthrow of God’s enemies, and if that doesn’t scramble your gender study presuppositions, I don’t know what will J

And the theme comes to its culmination in these familiar words of Mary in the Magnificat. Our perception of these words may perhaps be clouded by the glories of sung settings at Evensong, or rather we might view them through Rose tinted spectacles – Revolution!! doesn’t seem a suitable theme for such gentilities – or indeed our vision may be distorted by a perception of Mary as ‘Meek and mild’. Given all of this undue cosy familarity - we may well miss the plain fact that she is Rejoicing over the Great Reversals  – ‘He has cast down the mighty from their seat, and has exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away’ – This is the announcement of ‘the Year of the Lord’s favour – the day of vengeance of our God’ Salvation and Judgement going hand in hand. Good news for the humble and poor, bad news for the mighty and rich. And lest we think Mary is over egging it – listen to these words of Jesus himself from a few chapters later in the gospel Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  – then he goes on ‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. He says ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled ‘Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Jesus, the one who sits down in the synagogue in Nazareth and opens the scroll of the prophet Isaiah at these very words – The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon be – to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

Now we may well be asking – ‘How come the Year of the LORD’s favour, is also the day of vengeance of our God’. Well to answer that we have to understand what is the Year of the LORD”s favour?? I wonder if anyone knows what other name The Year of the LORD’s favour goes by – the year when Good News will be proclaimed to the oppressed and the captives will go free?

It is The Year of Jubilee – Jesus announces The ancient Law of the Year of Jubilee. Jubillee is based on a very simple set of ideas. When Israel was given the Land it was told most clearly, the land is the LORD’s – it is not yours – you are being given it to live in but it is not yours. Echoing Psalm 24 – the Earth belongs to the LORD! Every family was given its own patch of fertile ground – every family sat under their own fig tree to use a prophetic image which had its roots in this ancient Law.
            Now what happens in human communities over a period of time is this, some do well and grow richer, others do not and grow poorer – because at the outset everyone has ENOUGH, then to put it another way some got more than ENOUGH – they then accumulated the land of others (or the means of production to put it in another vein), but not only the land of others. Because these folk who hadn’t done so well had to sell their land to survive, they did even worse and so in the end they sold themselves, they offered to work for their keep (or they became wage slaves). And that my friends was contrary to God’s purposes and intentions for his people where every family would sit under its own fig tree.
            SO, recognizing that, the Israelites were given the Law of Jubilee – that in the Fiftieth Year ( a Sabbath of Sabbaths ) – all land was to be redistributed to those to whom it had originally given and anyone in slavery, or put another way, forced to work for others in order to keep themselves alive, had to be released (Actually this release was to be enacted in the seventh year). Except of course as far as we know, it had never been enacted . . .
            after all there you are, you’ve done well for yourself over the years and built a neat and tidy pile and you have become and influential voice in the neighbourhood. Then the Tradition says – ‘it all has to go back to its original place –you’ve accumulated land (or wealth) , it has to go back – you’ve accumulated workers – they have to be set free to enjoy the land you are returning to them . . .’ You might well say – “To Hell with the tradition!!’ is it Any surprise that this Clear Command of God was Ignored . . . and this then goes on and on and on and on and on, from generation to generation – so is it any surprise at all that at the end of it all when the coming of the LORD’s anointed is announced, the humble poor Rejoice!! At last!!  We may well say that Jesus doesn’t use the phrase ‘The day of Vengeance of our God’ – but to announce the year of the LORD’s favour is going to be bad news for those who do not want to respond. The rich will be sent empty away – the hungry will be filled with Good things.
            This Jubilee theme runs all through Luke’s gospel and perhaps most starkly in the story of the rich man and Lazarus – where Jesus tells us Abraham tells the Rich man – child, remember that during your lifetime, you received your good things – woe to you who are rich now, for you have received your consolation. Encatment of Jubilee

Now of course times have changed greatly in some respects since that time and one thing I am not about to do is to suggest how we go about transforming the World Economic Order to inaugurate Jubilee – because I do not think that that is what we as the people of God are called to. We don’t need to be told that the worlds economic order is fundamentally and literally Diabolically unjust, or at least I hope we don’t – we live in an age of on the one hand unparalleled luxury for many and on the other desperate poverty for many many more. In the time of the people of God in the Land of Israel people sold themselves into slavery to their neighbours – we live in an age when more people than ever before in the history of the world are in slavery and we have No Idea of who these people are.
            Unike in the time of Israel, this is hidden from us – we are blinded to Reality. In the time of the Old Testament, you bought the land and eventually the labour of your neighbour (“who is my neighbour?” is a Jubilee Question) – in other words it was as plain as the nose on your face that if I had more, my neighbour had less. We live in a complex world economic order where that Fact of Life is very very cleverly hidden. Most of us are not in the slightest aware that we accumulate at the expense of others,, but in the same way that those who did well didn’t want Jubilee, so now many many people would rather not face the facts. And it is not just the poor who are oppressed  - the earth itself suffers the same. The LAND itself has been taken into Slavery – It has no Rest, not even a Sabbath, let alone a Jubilee. The land is submitted to whips as harsh as those of the Egyptian slave drivers.
            Every year since 1970 the population of the world has used up more natural resources annually than can be renewed – this year we went through our allotment of resources by September 27th. If you’ve ever been tired because you haven’t had enough rest but you have to go on working harder and harder and harder, going more and more into sleep and energy deficit, you will have some feeling for this.
            But we have devised cruel and sophisticated myths to hide all this from our eyes. In the same way we have sustained the myth of riches for all by the use of Economic credit – we have sustained the myth of never ending resources by suggesting we might have environmental credit. Carbon Emissions trading is such a highly sophisticated example of thie. And because of these myths it is all too easy to think we can try and act in what we might call the public sphere, without looking closer to home  - to try and fix the system without realizing that we are too blind to do that, indeed that is precisely what God’s enemies desire, for that does not threaten how things are one jot – with all due respect to Occupy protestors and the rest. In this time of Advent, preparing for the Coming of the LORD we need to come closer to home, to ask, what does The Year of the Lords favour mean for us
For indeed the Lord will come and will not be silent – God will not wait for ever.

For it is for us, the people of God, this year of Jubilee – we are called to embody it so that the judgment of the world might be revealed – the World has already been judged at the Cross, the Judgment of Christ on our world economic order is a present reality – we are called to embody the year of the Lord’s favour and so reveal that judgement, that people may respond – and Response is what it is all about. When Salvation was revealed in Jesus Christ – there were those who responded like Zacchaeus.

When Jesus comes to Zachaues – Luke tells us - Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; Zacheus emobied the Salvation that Jesus brought and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ 9Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.’ We’ll keep the significance of the Son of Abraham for another time – but note that Zachaeus’ response was to enact Jubilee – half my possessions I will give to the poor.

He knew he had been blessed by the Presence of Christ and responded by becoming Blessing - He knew he had been blessed by the Presence of Christ and responded by becoming Blessing .  As the Law of Jubilee was needed for those who would not respond to the blessing of God – so under Grace we embody it – those who Know they are Blessed become blessing, that in the words of old – there may be no poor amongst you – That was supposed to be the Economic rebuke of the People of God to those amongst whom they lived and Luke continues in the book of Acts to show this being worked out in the early church – indeed the dramatic events of Acts 5 are as much down to a denial of Jubilee as they are to deceit.

A few weeks ago we were phenomenally blessed by the fair, no? I said at the time, that this blessing was not for us. At Vestry the other night I described how God’s blessing of his world worked, that those who are blessed become themselves like Zachaeus, blessing. The Sin of the world is to accumulate not only the blessing God gives us but that of others as well and the world stands under judgement for that. We the people of God recognize that all we have – all we have comes from Him and is for the Blessing of the nations. I described that idea of blessing for two reasons. Firstly because we had been blessed yet more – by a large bequest and because of Vestry’s response to the needs of Brockville community church. Please read your notice sheet in this regard and respond. The Wonderful thing in my mind is this, that we decided as a Vestry to give a double tithe from the fair income – we had already agreed to 1/10th for Christchurch, but it was proposed that we give a second to Brockville, our near neighbours a wonderful work happening on our doorstep. It was only After this had been decided that we heard form out Treasurer of the bequest.

Folks, this is a start –a good start, but only a start – our brothers and sisters near and far have many needs, we have been tremendously blessed both corporately as a church and also as individual members of it. Christ announces and embodies the Year of the Lord’s favour – it is our Vocation to Live into that, blessed as we are, and so to reveal to the world it’s true Lord – one who lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with Good things


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