Thursday, December 5, 2019

Advent Journal, Day 5: The Will of the Father

Readings: Isaiah 26:1-6, Matthew 7:21, 24-27.

Today's Gospel reading picks up at the tail end of the Sermon on the Mount. Just after telling the assembled crowd to be on guard for false prophets who come as wolves dressed in sheep's clothing, Jesus warns that "not all who say to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven."

The obvious question the reader is left to ponder is, what is the Father's will?

Let's start by looking back at today's first reading, from Isaiah. It concludes in this manner:

"Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal rock. He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; he tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust. It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor."

Now, if that doesn't mirror Mary's Magnificat in the Gospel of Luke, I don't know what does. In a passage so socially subversive that its public recitation has been banned more than once, for fear that it could spark revolt, Mary proclaims of that same God:

Ben Wildflower
"He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate. He has filled the hungry with good things and has sent the rich away empty."

Do you see a theme here? God takes the side of the lowly over the powerful, and that was the message Christ came to deliver to the world. He even lived out that message, by embracing the poor, the sick, the hated, the forgotten, the powerless -- everyone on the margins of society.

This is the point the scriptures try to drive home to us, over and over. We're less than a week into Advent, and already I feel like a broken record. This is how followers of Christ set themselves apart from the world. Not by condemning people for living imperfect lives. Not by giving comfort to those in power. Not by supporting vengeance and violence. Not by oppressing the poor. Not by demonizing the homeless and the migrant. No. Instead, "they will know us by our love for one another."

Indeed, Jesus tells us that we'll be able to pick out those false prophets, the wolves in sheep's clothing, by what comes out of their mouths. "By their fruits you will know them," he promised. I don't think I need to point out just how many so-called Christians you meet in the world today who talk of how in love with Jesus they are but then fail to act the least bit Christ-like. While certain corners of Christianity obsess over other people's private sex lives, support cuts to social programs and services, or praise war and the vengeance of capital punishment, God must surely be looking down and asking, "What have you done for the poor lately?"

Lest there be any lingering doubt, let's step for a moment into the book of Micah. This is a gem of the Old Testament, wherein we find the author reproaching leaders for their unjust actions while embracing the outcasts and the afflicted and defending the poor against the rich and powerful -- much like a certain Jesus of Nazareth some 700 years later.

In Chapter 6, God chides his people for falling short after all he's done for them. Micah, in turn, wonders what the people can do to make things right with the Lord. Is it sacrifice he wants? No. He's not going to let the people get off that easily. He wants not burnt offerings but a transformation of the heart. And what does that look like? Micah tells us:

"And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."

That's it. That is the will of the Father. To dispense humility, mercy, and justice -- not the justice of retribution, but social justice for "the least of these."

This should not surprise us. That God will pull down the powerful and raise up the lowly was a theme that ran straight through Jesus' ministry. "The last shall be first, and the first shall be last," he promised. And so it should be for us -- speaking truth to oppressive power structures through acts of quiet subversion that lift up those who have been exploited, who have fallen through the cracks, who have nothing. They are Christ in our midst. Not the powerful. Not the political leaders or captains of industry. Everyone already sings their praises. But who will be the voice for those who have none? That's where Christ comes in, with all of us following faithfully in his footsteps.

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