What’s on your Christmas list this year? Toys? Gadgets? Chocolate? A quick look at this year’s Top Ten Christmas Gifts Review shows an array of Star Wars themed gifts: a remote controlled “BB8” droid, as well as a flying model of the Millenium Falcon top the list for adventurers. For the less energetic, there are electronics designed to do the work for you: the “dream walker” (like a Segway without handlebars or a Back to the Future hovercraft on wheels) can walk for you; the Amazon Echo can think and look things up for you. There is a new digital version of the old “instamatic cameras” that prints your smart phone photos.
Each of these items rings in at an average of around $150. For a mere $350, now that cell phones have made wristwatches all but obsolete, Apple invites us to fill our longing for constant information with an Apple Watch. I wonder if there are other ways to stay connected with our family, with our community, our World. How can we stay connected with God? What does God want for Christmas?
The prophet Micah lived in a time when a few, privileged people were living pretty high off the hog, while many others suffered in poverty. Corruption, even among religious leaders, was rampant and Micah rebelled. In Chapter 6:8, Micah gives us God’s wish list. “What does the Lord require of you: To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God”. That’s what God wants, not a lot of showy gifts. God longs for justice, mercy and closeness with us.
As a “process theologian”, my way of describing God has a lot to do with longing — with our longing for the God’s Spirit, and with God’s longing for us. One of my favorite theology books – written by a Catholic nun named Ivone Gebara, working in the very poorest neighborhoods of Brazil– is titled Longing for Running Water. Like Psalm 42: As the deer longs for running streams . . .
Gebara experiences first-hand how the impoverished in our world – particularly women and children – are the ones who live in the most polluted and unhealthy areas of our world. She talks about how not only do these children of God long for clean water and clean air, she suggests that God longs for us to overturn the present system and become better stewards of the Earth.
In this regard, we all received an early Christmas gift on December 12, when 190 world nations made an agreement at the United Nations Climate Conference to work together “to cut carbon pollution and help the vulnerable nations of the world deal with the impacts of climate change”. i Merry Christmas! In this Paris Agreement, not only did these nations outline the goals, actions and finances needed for real change, they also laid the groundwork for a new kind of cooperation, “a new type of international cooperation where developed and developing countries are united in a common framework, and all are involved, engaged contributors”.ii If God is longing for us to connect with God, and the Earth, and one another, this may have caused some real rejoicing in Heaven!
On that same day, December 12th, Latino/a people from around the world celebrated the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This patron saint of the Americas celebrates an appearance of the Blessed Mother – Mary, the Mother of Jesus – to an indigenous man in Mexico named Juan Diego, asking for the church to support the poor and oppressed. Indeed, Mary has been a symbol of justice for those in need around the world for centuries.
Mary’s song of praise to God – her Magnificat – is a statement about justice. She rejoices with Elizabeth – her cousin, an older, wise woman – that God would, that he has, “scattered the proud” and “brought down the powerful”, and that God would, that he has “filled the hungry with good things”. This was, and is, a radical statement! So radical, in fact, that churches in some South American countries (among them Brazil) would not allow the Magnificat to be read during times of revolutionary unrest for fear that it would incite people to riot!
Here at St. James, God will, God is, God has filled the hungry, just this past week. Out of our little Outreach office – like Bethlehem, a village from whom no one expected very much – lives are supported, flocks are fed, people are given God’s peace in tangible ways. From our little Angel Tree, families have received gifts – not Apple Watches or voice activated computers – but gifts of love that have connected them to our community, and to God — gifts of justice and kindness and humility; the ones on God’s wish list.
Elizabeth extols the “blessings” of Mary: not only that she would bear the Son of God, but also that Mary believed in God’s promises; God’s promises to her and to the people of Israel, to Abraham and Sarah, to you and me, to all of God’s children. Promises of help, of hope, and of mercy. Mary’s faith was a blessing to Mary, to Elizabeth, and to each of us today.
Faith is no easy thing. We may long for wellbeing, for connection, for nutritious food and running water, and we may profess our faith in God’s mutual longing for such goodness, and God’s ability to make them so. Are we willing, like Mary, to put our faith into action, into commitment? This Christmas, are we willing to add God’s “wish list” to our own? Justice, and mercy, and humility may cost more (or less) than $150, but they will bless us – and bless all of God’s creation – with infinite gifts of lasting beauty and grace.
When we give a wrapped gift to a family in need, it helps them to feel God’s love, and to believe in his promises and in themselves. When we pledge and volunteer this year to help support ministries, we take a step out, in faith, toward the kind of walk with God that transforms us as well as those we serve. We say, “See, I have come to do your will!”. May each of us rush with joy to meet God this Christmas – as Mary rushed to meet Elizabeth – fulfilling our mutual longing with great gifts of endless blessing and renewal. AMEN.
i Rolling Stone Magazine
ii “The Paris Agreement: Turning Point for a Climate Solution”, Article by David Waskow and Jennifer Morgan