As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings. We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom. Thank you for being a part of this journey with us. Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!
Today, we have a special treat. Our friend, and one of the Pastoral staff at our home church, Charla Gwartney is offering our Lenten reflection. Rev. Charla Gwartney serves as Executive Pastor at Acts 2 United Methodist Church, overseeing administrative details of the congregation. She is blessed to be a part of a growing congregation with a heart for ministry. Her family is a great blessing to her…husband, Kurt and daughter, Elizabeth. They live in downtown OKC and enjoy the urban life of Oklahoma’s largest city in their free time.
A reading from the Psalms.
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
— Psalm 72:1-7 (NRSV)
The Word of God for the People of God.
As I write this, the world is mourning one of the greats, Nelson Mandela. He died on Dec. 5. He was 95 years old. Many people know more about Nelson Mandela than I do. I simply know that he stood for forgiveness when he had every right to stand for revenge.
I know that he spoke words of peace to those who oppressed him (and others who shared his skin color.) I know he was imprisoned unfairly. And, I know that when he was released, his country was able to endure revolution without the bloodshed that often accompanies such change. I know that Nelson Mandela spoke truthfully about justice and righteousness and I know that it brought him trouble.
When the writer of this scripture prays for a king, I think the psalmist is hoping for one like Nelson Mandela. “May he judge your people with righteousness and your poor with justice…May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” Leaders like Mandela are few and far between. It is hard to find people willing to speak up for those without a voice and endure the price of speaking up. More likely, those in power are lulled into believing that power is evidence of God’s blessing. This blessing belongs to them, rather than being entrusted to them for sharing with all those God loves.
It is hard to argue with the witness of scripture – God has a preferential option for the poor. And, God asks leaders to care for the poor. This kingdom Jesus teaches us to pray for (…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven) is a place where all come to the table and share together in God’s abundance.
On the same day that Nelson Mandela died, workers in fast-food restaurant chains were protesting a wage that forces them to rely on government assistance. A recent study found that 52% of fast-food workers rely on government assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid. This news surfaced at the same time that McDonald’s purchased another luxury jet for its executives, costing $35 million. What should we do with that? What should we do with this reminder that the world Nelson Mandela imagined has not yet come to pass? What should we do with this reminder that the world Jesus teaches us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer…that the psalmist is lifting up…is conspicuously absent?
For me, this is the hard part of Advent. I love lighting the Advent candles and proclaiming that light has overcome the darkness. I love special family traditions, like Advent devotionals and calendars that build expectation. I love the music, food, extra time with family and friends. But, there is this part of Advent I can’t ignore – the call for justice and righteousness. The psalmist prays for a king that will bring a kingdom mirroring God’s priorities. The stories of this season remind us of a babe born in poverty, facing the risks that so many who are poor still face…hunger, danger, no access to basic necessities.
I need to see this side of Advent too. I need to be reminded that vulnerability carries its own power. I need to remember that the blessing God has chosen to give me is intended to benefit all of God’s children.
I am grateful for the life Nelson Mandela lived and for the witness he proclaimed. But, if that is the only witness made, the light can’t overcome the darkness. No! God calls all of us to speak truth to power, to stand in solidarity with those who have no voice, and to care for those the world would rather ignore. May it be so.