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ADVENT: DAY 22

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Now you are walled around with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel upon the cheek.  But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.  Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.  And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.  And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.”—Micah 5:1-5a

 

 

I will never forget Christmas in Kerala.  The reasons are too numerous to list here.  One that stands out, though, is hearing Binu, John Thomas, play on his guitar and sing They’ve Cancelled Christmas in Bethlehem.  It goes like this:

 

They’ve cancelled Christmas in Bethlehem

They’ve cancelled peace in Bethlehem

In a land once known as holy the gun is in control

They’ve cancelled Christmas in Bethlehem

 

They’ve cancelled freedom in Bethlehem

They’ve cancelled hope in Bethlehem

They’ve locked the little town behind a ghetto wall

They’ve cancelled Christmas in Bethlehem

 

Though angels are singing—they’re trapped behind the wall

Yet angels keep singing down in Beit Sahour

And if our Christmas songs and prayers are not to be in vain

We must pull down that prison wall that’s strangling Bethlehem.

 

The wall must fall!  The wall must fall!

If peace on earth is to come

The wall must fall!

 

They’ve cancelled wise men in Bethlehem

They’ve cancelled shepherds in Bethlehem

They’ve stopped the wise men at the checkpoint and the shepherds can’t leave home

They’re under curfew in Bethlehem

 

Though angels are singing—they’re trapped behind the wall

Yet angels keep singing down in Beit Sahour

And if our Christmas songs and prayers are not to be in vain

We must pull down that prison wall that’s strangling Bethlehem.

 

The wall must fall!  The wall must fall!

If peace on earth is to come

The wall must fall!

 

—Words and music by Garth Hewitt

 

 

The placement of Micah’s words in his prophecy are remarkable.  He writes about the people of Israel being trapped behind a wall and attacked behind that wall.  Then in the very next breath he prophecies that out of Bethlehem will come a leader who will be a shepherd feeding the flock, who will be great to the ends of earth, who will be the One of peace.  

 

The Israelites were being assaulted by mightier powers.  It seems that a wall had even been constructed to keep the people ‘in their place’ and out of the places that the powerful wanted.  From that very place behind the wall would come a savior, a messiah to lead the people, the One of peace.  I am becoming more and more convinced that prophecies are not one and done deals.  I think that God speaks through them to new generations and different contexts, that the words can validly carry meaning anew in various situations.  For, the hope shouted forth in this passage applies fully to Bethlehem today.  The most highly weaponized nation state in the Middle East has constructed a wall to separate the town of Bethlehem from the rest of Israel.  The Israeli government has enacted marshall law while occupying Palestinian land, with the full military and monetary backing of the United States.  If the person prophesied were to be born in Bethlehem today, the Messiah never would have made it to Jerusalem to live into that Passion we many of us believe to be the central salvific act.

 

Now, the Israeli nation state should never be thought of as the same as the Israel of old.  As with so many other nation states, it is a political entity built upon religio-cultural narratives that point towards divine origins.  The Jewish people can and should claim this heritage, as should the Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Druze in the region.  The government and many of its supporters (including the U.S. government), though, have forgotten the legacy of ancient Israel—a people who were claimed by God, liberated from slavery, and sustained through the wilderness.  Though they had their own problems with unjust warrior kings, they were often the ones under siege and attack, exile and colonization.  Indeed, it was while being held under the mighty Roman Empire that Bethlehem saw Jesus being born to Mary.

 

As we approach the celebration of this birth, let us focus on the reality of a walled-in Bethlehem today.  Let us participate in action to bring down that wall and any wall that dispossesses the poor for the sake of the powerful.  The wall must fall!  The wall must fall!

Posted December 20, 2015

 

ADVENT: DAY 21

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Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son.  Who has heard of such a thing?  Who has seen such things?  Shall a land be born in one day?  Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?  Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children.  Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the LORD; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God.  Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her—that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink with delight from her glorious bosom.  For thus says the LORD: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arms, and dandled on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”—Isaiah 66:7-13

 

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’  He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.  Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’  Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  See, your house is left to you.  And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”—Luke 13:31-35

 

In today’s readings Zion, Jerusalem, YHWH, and Jesus are all depicted as mothers.  Zion was in labor and she delivered her children without pain.  All those who love and mourn with Jerusalem should rejoice at nursing from her consoling breast and drinking with delight from her glorious bosom.  YHWH comforts us and Jerusalem as a mother comforts her child.  Jesus desires to gather the children of Jerusalem together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.  YHWH our Mother!  Jesus our Mother!  Zion our Mother!  Jerusalem our Mother!

 

According to the Scriptures, YHWH and Jesus use maternal imagery self-referentially.  It is quite clear that the fullness of God and the fullness of God incarnate contain the fullness of the gender spectrum.  Take a second or a minute or a whole lifetime and ponder how this world would be transformed if we all realized this truth—if we stopped creating God in the image of our hetero-patriarchy and instead began creating ourselves and our society in the actual image of God!

 

Ever since living in India, I have cringed whenever confronted with a deluge of masculinity in reference to God.  Kali-Durga, Saraswati, and Lakshmi opened my eyes to the divine feminine and thus to the problem of a narrowly-gendered God.  I thus found myself in a regular cringe here in Zambia, as every prayer is to a He-God—and trust me, there is a LOT of prayer.  Whenever I find myself becoming too critical, though, I have to take a step back.  I grew up on this same He-God in the Presbyterianism of rural Indiana and every other church setting I encountered up until the time I graduated from college.  Further, I know from conversations with Zambian friends in seminary here that they also are encouraged to expand their images of God, including gender.  The reality is that hetero-patriarchy is dominant everywhere, and God is regularly ‘created’ in the image of dominant society.

Let us not ignore Zion our Mother and Jerusalem our Mother.  Isaiah and YHWH through Isaiah describe the Holy Land as Mother.  Palestine, Israel, Canaan, Judah…the land flowing with mother’s milk and honey.  Given the essential significance of this place for Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze, it is no surprise to me that it is described as Mother, the source or origin.  I will never forget a discussion with the one and only Sarah Lyn Jones in which she argued the problematics of referring to Earth as Mother.  For, the reality is that we continually rape and destroy this planet and all of the natural world.  It is another instance of patriarchal violence.  So, while problematic, it is truthful to use “Mother Earth,” because what we do to the planet is a direct result of hetero-patriarchy.  I think this analysis applies hauntingly well to the Holy Land.  Patriarchal violence is an apt description for the Israeli occupation, the American arms dump, the carceral state, and the apartheid in the Holy Land.

 

So in these passages we see at once the power of the Mother in the fullness of the gendered divine and then the gendered reality of violence in dominant society.  God embodies all gender.  Dominant society perpetrates violence against those with oppressed gender and sexual identities, including Creation itself.

 

Let us listen to God our Mother as we wait for Jesus our Mother this season!

Posted December 19, 2015

 

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Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8