2nd Sunday of Advent
Texts: Luke 3:1-6;
Mal. 3:1-4; Phil 1:3-11
BELIEVING IN JESUS AS WORLD-CHANGING
In the fourth year of the presidency of Barack Obama, when Rick Snyder was governor of Michigan, and Bobby Hopewell mayor of Kalamazoo and Peter Strazdas mayor of Portage, during the last year of John Schleicher’s term of being Bishop in Lansing, the Word of God came to the people of Prince of Peace Lutheran in Kalamazoo County, Michigan. And that Word is Good News precisely because it comes into time and space, into history, to make a difference in the world through you and me, the Body of Christ.
When Luke places Jesus’ life in the midst of world history, he leaves no doubt that the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus are real events that he believes are world-changing. Two thousand years later do we still believe they are world-changing?
In Protestantism faith has become more and more about personal belief – an individual decision made in a person’s mind and heart to believe a certain way, and not necessarily choosing to live a certain way. But that doesn’t take into account that our lives are an interaction between what we choose and what events happen around us and to us. Jesus comes to us in both the realm of our beliefs and realm of the everyday world. He brings healing and reconciliation from the hurtful events of our lives, and sends us as disciples to bring healing and reconciliation to the rest of our world. We face the future with hope because Christ is with us as we live our faith out in the world. Our real choice is how to react to events around us – how we will live our faith.
Here’s my main point today: If faith is seen only as a personal choice, it diminishes the significance of Christ to the world. By anchoring Jesus’ life in history, Luke declares it as an event impacting the entire world of nations, politics and culture. It impacts Tiberius Caesar and Pontius Pilate and Herod. It impacts Barack Obama and Rick Snyder, and Microsoft and General Electric. It impacts you and me. This is the fullness of our faith. Whether we believe it or not, whether we understand it or not, God in Christ caused something pivotal to happen in this world that changed the nature of things forever — and not just for believers, but for the whole world.
On the level of personal transformation, a good example is A.A. — something very important in my family of origin. It was almost impossible for Alcoholics to gain healing within the church, where they mostly encountered judgment. It was ironically outside of the church that they experienced the healing which Christ brought into the world — with many of them claiming no religion beyond a relationship with their “Higher Power.” The Holy Spirit works to bring the healing of Christ to people in A.A. even if they don’t believe in Jesus.
If we are stuck in faith as only a personal choice, it is even more difficult for us moderns to believe in the Jesus events as world-changing on the level of global transformation. As we begin this church year of featuring the Gospel of Luke, let’s return for a few moments to the images St. Luke uses from the prophet Isaiah to paint a homecoming through the wilderness, a road home that levels rough places. The mountains are brought low and the valleys are lifted. In the Biblical story, the journey home is always ultimately for God’s whole Creation, God’s entire household. And the going home levels the peaks and valleys along the way for all God’s children. But we will never make it to God’s household if there continue to be high peaks of children living in incredible wealth and low valleys of children living in abject poverty. Did you know that every three seconds the world loses a child? This year many children will not see their fifth birthday. Whether through hunger, malnutrition, abuse, neglect, disease, dirty water or the absence of vaccines.
Luke tells us over and over again how Jesus is God’s pivot-point in history to bring greater equity to God’s household, and above all, that change is Good News to the poor. A pregnant Mary proclaims the bringing down of the wealthy and the lifting up of the poor. Jesus inaugurates his ministry in Nazareth by reading from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18) And the first thing Luke tells us about the church as he begins the Book of Acts is, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).
What does it look like when the events of our lives as people of faith living in Kalamazoo County in 2012 intersect with the events of Christ’s Holy Spirit continuing to work? Several weeks ago our youth presented us with the picture of God’s current household. We had large representations of all the continents displayed around the room, with each country labeled for the percentage of malnourished people. Most of the Western industrialized nations have percentages of 5% and lower. Most of the countries in Africa have percentages of over 20, 30, and even 40%.
The PoP youth also represented the daily per person use of water with a mountain of buckets in the chancel: the mountain of 28 five gallon buckets represents U.S. water usage, compared to one one-liter pail for about a billion of God’s children in other parts of the world. I heard the statistic this week about the use of resources in general: that about one-third of the world’s population uses resources at a rate 32 times the remaining two-thirds. What we certainly saw with the buckets is true in general for all the natural resources. Rock star Bono said it well, “Where you live should not determine whether you live.” Yes, our journey homeward to God’s household still has much leveling to accomplish.
The Good News is that the journey homeward has begun in Jesus Christ, and we can see signs of its working. While the gap between the richest and poorest hasn’t shrunk much over the last two thousand years, the last several centuries has brought a great expansion of the middle class. And democracy brings a politics where we can choose to do more. The Book of Acts shows the church eliminating the needy, but they couldn’t make any headway beyond the church under Roman imperialism. In our day under democracy, the movement to help those in need has expanded way beyond the church. Even rock stars show leadership!
We in the church continue to live our faith in this place and time of history doing as much as we can to take God’s household beyond these walls. I’m proud of all we do to reach out at PoP. In this fourth year of Barack Obama’s presidency, with Rick Snyder as our governor, we continue to live God’s Word in Jesus Christ in ways that make a difference in the world. Let us come to the table for a foretaste of the feast to come, that day when all God’s children will be at the table, and no one will go hungry. Amen
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, December 9, 2012