Christmas Means Centering the Voices of Women

woman looking into the sun

Herb Montgomery | December 24, 2021


“We, too, can choose to listen when a woman has the courage to tell her story, even if it seems “impossible” to patriarchal men . . . If we are to take these Christmas narratives seriously, then we must center the voices of women in our society. We can choose to listen when they tell their stories . . . we, too, can follow the example of Luke’s Christmas narratives by centering women’s voices and pushing back against present-day expressions of Christianity that are patriarchal, that seek to silence women, or that still refuse to allow women to teach, be ordained, or hold positions of leadership.”


(To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.)

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you! Thanks for taking a moment to check in during this busy holiday weekend. I’ll be brief.

Our reading this week is from Luke 2:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a days journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Fathers house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. (Luke 2:41-52)

There’s a lot to unpack in this week’s reading.

First, I want to address the history of antisemitism in some interpretations of this week’s reading. Many of them imagine Jesus as a child instructing Jewish elders and scholars, and so demote Jewish wisdom and knowledge to a status or quality beneath Jesus. This is not only harmful but also unnecessary.

And the passage doesn’t support such a picture. The text does say that Jesus was, first, “listening” to the scholars, and, second, “asking them questions.” They were amazed at his understanding (including of the explanations he was listening to) and his answers (implying they were questioning whether he grasped the depth of their teaching). The story reminds me of college students who impress their teachers with their understanding and their answers to questions. That in no way implies that those students know more or have greater experience than their teachers. At most, the gospel writer is characterizing Jesus as a gifted student, perhaps even a prodigy, but still very much a child. We don’t have to disparage Judaism or Jewish knowledge to listen to and value Jesus in the gospels.

Second, the Christmas and childhood narratives of Jesus in the gospels are following the format of Hellenistic hero biographies. True to that form, Luke includes a story from his hero’s childhood. These stories were typically included as predictions or prophecies of the nature of the hero’s life work and future accomplishments. Followers of Jesus, especially those for whom the gospel of Luke was originally written, were keenly devoted in proclaiming the value of Jesus’ teachings to others. For those others to take Jesus seriously, he had to be placed at least on the same level as other Hellenistic heroes. This is what we are witnessing in this week’s story. Luke’s hero, Jesus, is a precocious child, possibly a prodigy in understanding Torah, increasing in wisdom, learning, understanding, and respect, and so the narrative predicts that Jesus would grow up to become a great teacher.

In keeping with the Hellenistic hero form, in an almost ominous fashion, the story ends with “His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

In Luke, Jesus’ wisdom and learning grows and evolves. Readers soon encounter a Jesus who breaks into his society as a man with wisdom, learning, understanding and good news to share. And of all the passages in the Hebrew scriptures this Jesus could use to sum up his own purpose and passion, he chooses a passage from Isaiah.

“He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.” (Luke 4:16-19)

This great teacher’s wisdom is characterized in the story as good news to the poor. It proclaims liberty to the subjugated, including the imprisoned and oppressed. It also announces a return to Torah faithfulness (“the year of the Lord’s favor”), specifically in the context of economic restructuring that eliminates poverty (cf. Deuteronomy 15).

These are the elements of the Torah that the child in this week’s story will grow up to teach.

Lastly, I want to draw our attention to how Joseph is neither centered nor given any voice at all in this story. The only dialogue is between Mary and Jesus, and Joseph is in the periphery or background. Luke doesn’t ever center Joseph in any of the Christmas narratives.

I was recently contacted by a friend who had been tasked with speaking about Joseph during a church-related Christmas event, and they asked if I could offer some resources. But the more I thought about Joseph in the Christmas narratives, the more this point became clear. Luke’s Christmas narratives center women’s voices like Elizabeth’s and Mary’s. Even Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, has his literal voice taken away till John’s birth. And we never hear from Joseph in Luke: he isn’t centered in Luke’s birth or childhood narratives of Jesus at all.  This most likely was because Hellenistic heroes were typically assigned divine parentage in some form. Today, we can hear these narratives, though, as centering the voices of women.

And maybe that’s our point that we can take away from these stories in our context.

Even in Matthew’s gospel, Joseph gets a little more stage time than he does in Luke, but not much. An angel tells him to believe Mary no matter how impossible her story might seem, and Joseph chooses to listen and believe her. We, too, can choose to listen when a woman has the courage to tell her story, even if it seems “impossible” to patriarchal men.

I think of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who told her story during the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be a Supreme Court Justice. So many disbelieved her testimony. During his nomination hearing, Kavanaugh assured Senator Susan Collins that he respected the precedents around Roe vs. Wade, yet now that he is a Supreme Court justice, he has expressed complete disregard for that precedent in hearings about abortion restrictions in Mississippi. How many times must our society look back with regret and say “we should have listened to ‘her’”?

Social location matters. If we are to take these Christmas narratives seriously, then we must center the voices of women in our society. We can choose to listen when they tell their stories. And we must especially be about this business within our faith communities as well. As people of faith, we, too, can follow the example of Lukes Christmas narratives by centering womens voices and pushing back against present-day expressions of Christianity that are patriarchal, that seek to silence women, or that still refuse to allow women to teach, be ordained, or hold positions of leadership. We must do better. And we can.

As this year comes to a close and we prepare to embark on a new year, may we take these narratives to heart. May we listen to their lessons. And may we spend this coming year more deeply engaging the necessary work of making our world a safer, more compassionate, just home for everyone.

Merry Christmas to each of you!

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. With your group, share some things you are thankful for from 2021, something you wish had been different, and some hopes you may have for 2022.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


End of Year Matching Donations!

2021 has been a year of big challenges. Doing ministry during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of change along with moments of heartwarming providence and blessings.

As this year is coming to a close, I’m deeply humbled and thankful for all of you who read, listen to, and share RHM’s work.  I’m also grateful for the actions you have taken to make our world a safer, compassionate, just home for all. Thank you for being such an important part of our community, and for your continued support.

Thanks to a kind donor, who also believes in our work, we are able to extend matching donations through the end of month of December.  All donation this month will be matched, dollar for dollar, making your support of Renewed Heart Ministries, and the work we do, go twice as far.

Your support enables RHM to continue providing much needed resources to help Jesus-followers find the intersection between their faith and labors of love, compassion, and justice in our world today.

As 2021 ends, we invite you to consider making a donation to Renewed Heart Ministries to make the most of this very kind offer.

You can donate online by clicking online at renewedheartministries.com and clicking “Donate.”

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries

PO Box 1211

Lewisburg, WV 24901

Thank you in advance for your continued support.

This coming year, together, we will continue being a voice for change.

The Feminist Liberation of Advent

End of Year Matching Donations!

2021 has been a year of big challenges. Doing ministry during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of change along with moments of heartwarming providence and blessings.

As this year is coming to a close, I’m deeply humbled and thankful for all of you who read, listen to, and share RHM’s work.  I’m also grateful for the actions you have taken to make our world a safer, compassionate, just home for all. Thank you for being such an important part of our community, and for your continued support.

Thanks to a kind donor, who also believes in our work, we are able to extend matching donations through the end of month of December.  All donation this month will be matched, dollar for dollar, making your support of Renewed Heart Ministries, and the work we do, go twice as far.

Your support enables RHM to continue providing much needed resources to help Jesus-followers find the intersection between their faith and labors of love, compassion, and justice in our world today.

As 2021 ends, we invite you to consider making a donation to Renewed Heart Ministries to make the most of this very kind offer.

You can donate online by clicking online at renewedheartministries.com and clicking “Donate.”

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries

PO Box 1211

Lewisburg, WV 24901

Thank you in advance for your continued support.

This coming year, together, we will continue being a voice for change.


The Feminist Liberation of Advent

Herb Montgomery | December 17, 2021

“In this week’s reading from the gospel of Luke, we read of two more women: Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist and Mary the mother of Jesus. Both Elizabeth and Mary would, for Luke’s listeners, call to mind ancient stories of courageous, scandalous, feminine liberation on behalf of oppressed people, the stories of Jael and Judith.”

Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke, Luke 1:39-55.

I’ve chosen to quote Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney’s translation in her wonderful contribution to the church, A Woman’s Lectionary for the Whole Church; Year W.

Mary set out in those days and went to the hill country with haste, to a Judean town. There she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Now when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. From where does the [visit] come to me? That the mother of my Sovereign comes to me? Look! As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting in my ear, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Now blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of those things spoken to her by the Holy One.” (p. 6)

And Mary replies,

My soul magnifies the Holy One,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s own womb-slave,

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is God’s name.

God’s loving-kindness is for those who fear God

from generation to generation.

God has shown the strength of God’s own arm;

God has scattered the arrogant in the intent of their hearts.

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

God has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

God has helped God’s own child, Israel,

a memorial to God’s mercy,

just as God said to our mothers and fathers,

to [Hagar and] Sarah and Abraham, to their descendants forever. (pp. 8-9)

Those who heard Luke’s narrative and were familiar with the stories of the Hebrew scriptures would have recognized Elizabeth’s greeting as an echo of earlier Jewish narratives:

Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. (Judges 5:24)

Then Uzziah said to her, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies. Your deed of hope will never be forgotten by those who recall the might of God.” (Judith 13:18)

The first quote about Jael is from the story of Deborah, a prophetess and judge. In the book of Judges, Deborah tells Barak, a military commander, to assemble forces and battle Sisera, commander of the army of King Jabin of Canaan. Jabin “had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years” and “they [Israelites] cried to the LORD for help.” (Judges 4:3)

Barak tells Deborah that he will only go if she goes with him. She agrees, but replies, “because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” (Judges 4:9)

When Sisera escapes the battle, he flees on foot and hides in the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber. He mistakes Jael as a neutral party in the battle. Jael then seduces Sisera only to drive a stake through his temple while he sleeps. Jael ushers Barak in to behold the gruesome scene.

The song of Deborah memorializes this story:

  Most blessed of women be Jael,

the wife of Heber the Kenite,

most blessed of tent-dwelling women.

He asked for water, and she gave him milk;

in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.

  Her hand reached for the tent peg,

her right hand for the workmans hammer.

She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

  At her feet he sank,

he fell; there he lay.

At her feet he sank, he fell;

where he sank, there he fell—dead. (Judges 5:24-27)

This is a violent and bloody story of liberation from oppression by the hands of a woman. Medieval images of Jael often depict her as a prefiguration of Mary the mother of Jesus.

The second reference, from the deuterocanonical book of Judith, is found in the Septuagint. It tells the story of Judith, a courageous and beautiful Jewish widow. Judith uses her beauty and power of seduction to destroy the Assyrian general Holofernes and to liberate her people from oppression.

In Judith 10 we read:

“She removed the sackcloth she had been wearing, took off her widows garments, bathed her body with water, and anointed herself with precious ointment. She combed her hair, put on a tiara, and dressed herself in the festive attire that she used to wear while her husband Manasseh was living. She put sandals on her feet, and put on her anklets, bracelets, rings, earrings, and all her other jewelry. Thus she made herself very beautiful, to entice the eyes of all the men who might see her.” (Judith 10:3-4)

When Judith is captured by Holofernes’ patrol, she tells them, I am a daughter of the Hebrews, but I am fleeing from them, for they are about to be handed over to you to be devoured. I am on my way to see Holofernes the commander of your army, to give him a true report; I will show him a way by which he can go and capture all the hill country without losing one of his men, captured or slain.” (10:12-13)

Her beauty distracts them, and they take her to Holofernes who hears her tale and welcomes her.

Her words pleased Holofernes and all his servants. They marveled at her wisdom and said, “No other woman from one end of the earth to the other looks so beautiful or speaks so wisely! . . . You are not only beautiful in appearance, but wise in speech.” (11:20-23)

Holofernes holds a private banquet and intends to have sex with Judith afterwards. She gets him so drunk that late in the night, while he’s passed out and she’s alone with him, Judith stands beside Holofernes’ bed and prays: “O Lord God of all might, look in this hour on the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem” (13:4). She then takes down Holofornes’ sword, which hung from his bed post, and decapitates him in two blows.

This is another violent, bloody story of liberation from oppression by the hands of a woman.

In this week’s reading from the gospel of Luke, we read of two more women: Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist and Mary the mother of Jesus. Both Elizabeth and Mary would, for Luke’s listeners, call to mind ancient stories of courageous, scandalous, feminine liberation on behalf of oppressed people.

Elizabeth’s story is of a life miraculously conceived in her though she is past childbearing years. This is a common theme in Hebrew liberation narratives of liberation, including Hannah with Samuel, and Samson’s mother with Samson. Elizabeth’s miracle will prepare the way of liberation for people in hopeless oppression. Hers is a child who will proclaim hope in the face of impossibilities.

Mary’s story, on the other hand, is not one of life being created where it was impossible. Her story, like Jael’s and Judith’s, is much more sexually scandalous. The life growing in her was conceived before she and Joseph were joined in marriage. And that life will not prepare for liberation, like John’s will. No, this life will tell the story of the way of liberation itself. The scandal of Jesus’ conception, with all its surrounding questions, will climax in the scandal of women some thirty years later testifying to the scandal of an empty tomb.

These narratives aren’t perfect. In the ancient stories, it is the women who liberate. In the Christmas narratives women now give birth to sons who are the conduits of liberation. The ancient stories may have been written at a much less patriarchal time than the stories in our gospels; I don’t know. Still, this week’s reading is not about John or Jesus. The reading is about Elizabeth and Mary, who shaped them.

With all of this in mind, go back and read Mary’s Magnificat as translated by Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D:

My soul magnifies the Holy One,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s own womb-slave,

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is God’s name.

God’s loving-kindness is for those who fear God

from generation to generation.

God has shown the strength of God’s own arm;

God has scattered the arrogant in the intent of their hearts.

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

God has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

God has helped God’s own child, Israel,

a memorial to God’s mercy,

just as God said to our mothers and fathers,

to [Hagar and] Sarah and Abraham, to their descendants forever.

One of Advent’s loudest themes is that liberation, salvation, change come from the bottom up and from the outside edges in; from those in more marginalized social locations. In the economy or reign of the God of this gospel, it is the hungry who are filled with good things. It is the lowly who are lifted up. The arrogant are scattered, the powerful and privileged are brought down, and the rich are sent away empty.

As we look around us at our world, societies, and communities today, this way may seem as impossible as Elizabeth’s story. Dare we choose to be people of hope in the face of apparent impossibilities? Some may also deem this way as scandalous as Mary—scandalous in its inclusion, scandalous in its outspokenness, and scandalous in its brazenness.

During this time of Advent and always, this is the kind of life and work we are called to be about. Dare we choose to be people of the scandalous gospel of Jesus?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. On this last weekend of Advent, how are our stories speaking of liberation, change, and societal justice alongside of and in harmony with these ancient stories? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

Advent as Too Political

End of Year Matching Donations!

2021 has been a year of big challenges. Doing ministry during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of change along with moments of heartwarming providence and blessings.

As this year is coming to a close, I’m deeply humbled and thankful for all of you who read, listen to, and share RHM’s work.  I’m also grateful for the actions you have taken to make our world a safer, compassionate, just home for all. Thank you for being such an important part of our community, and for your continued support.

Thanks to a kind donor, who also believes in our work, we are able to extend matching donations through the end of month of December.  All donation this month will be matched, dollar for dollar, making your support of Renewed Heart Ministries, and the work we do, go twice as far.

Your support enables RHM to continue providing much needed resources to help Jesus-followers find the intersection between their faith and labors of love, compassion, and justice in our world today.

As 2021 ends, we invite you to consider making a donation to Renewed Heart Ministries to make the most of this very kind offer.

You can donate online by clicking online at renewedheartministries.com and clicking “Donate.”

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries

PO Box 1211

Lewisburg, WV 24901

Thank you in advance for your continued support.

This coming year, together, we will continue being a voice for change.


 

Advent as Too Political

Star in the night sky

by Herb Montgomery | December 10, 2021


“If Jesus really did begin as a disciple of John, what was it about John’s preaching that resonated so deeply? Was it concern for what people were unjustly suffering within a system structured to benefit others at their expense? . . . How can we, as Jesus-followers during Advent season, continue John’s and Jesus’ work in our own settings today?”


This weekend is the third weekend of Advent. Our reading is:

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. Teacher,” they asked, what should we do?” “Dont collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, And what should we do?” He replied, Dont extort money and dont accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. (Luke 3:7-18)

The followers of John the Baptist comprised a movement that preexisted the Jesus moment and co-existed alongside it for a time. They were quite a broad Jewish community (see Mark 1:5; 11:32; and Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 18:118-119). Most Jesus scholars today see Jesus’ and John’s movements as separate but related, perhaps with Jesus following John before launching out on his own (see Mark 1:14).

The gospel of John, the canonical gospel written last, goes to great lengths to portray Jesus and his movement as being superior to John’s, however, and there are differences between John’s movement and Jesus’, including differences on fasting and baptisms (see Mark 2:18; John 4:1-2).

This week, in the context of Advent, I’ll focus on the themes that John’s teachings and Jesus’ held in common.

To the crowds, John taught:

Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

To tax collectors:

Dont collect any more than you are required to.”

To soldiers:

Dont extort money and dont accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

In each of these instances, John reminds us of his own location: he’s not within the system of the temple-state we covered last week but a voice in the wilderness calling for social justice from outside. He’s standing within the Hebrew Prophetic tradition here. His concern is for justice to be practiced within his society because deeds prove social repentance is more than lip service. John demands that those who are exploiting others stop making them vulnerable.

Jesus made similar demands: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (Luke 12.33; cf. Luke 4:18; 6:20; 11:41; 18:22; 19:8)

John and Jesus were not itinerant preachers traveling the countryside, handing out tickets to a post mortem heaven as an escape from this world’s problems or a reward for religious purity. They were both itinerant prophets of the poor, deeply concerned not about a life hereafter but about the concrete realities of those suffering in the here and now.

In this light, and especially during the season of Advent, a Christianity that focuses on achieving entrance into heaven without regard for injustices being committed right now is out of harmony with the teachings of both John and Jesus.

For many Christians, it’s rare to speak out against real world injustice. I’ve bumped up against this disconnect myself. As I’ve spoken out against racism and White supremacy, patriarchy and misogyny, classism and predatory capitalism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and exclusion, for many years now, too often it’s my Christian friends who’ve told me that we are to be “not of this world” and that I was reading the Jesus story too “politically.”

By “too political,” my friends don’t mean that I was endorsing and promoting a certain political party or specific candidate. But in our highly charged environment, speaking out against harm being done to vulnerable communities is political. Jesus was also political in that he taught that the reign of God belonged to those the present system makes poor.

Both Jesus and John are religious in the sense that they both interpreted their religious commitment to the God of the Torah, but their teachings were also political, economic, and social as well. You can’t separate Jesus’ and John’s teachings along these hard lines or categories. If you begin with an understanding that God loves everyone, then any harm being done in the present to the objects of that love should be opposed. This is what we see happening in the lives and ministries of both John and Jesus. Speaking out got John beheaded. It got Jesus crucified.

I’m reminded of the words of the late Dr. James H. Cone in this regard:

“What has the gospel to do with the oppressed of the land and their struggle for liberation? Any theologian who fails to place that question at the center of his or her work has ignored the essence of the gospel.” (James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed, p. 9)

Whether speaking out against harm to vulnerable communities is political all depends on which communities you claim are being harmed. If, for example, I were saying that Christian religious freedoms are being limited by recognition of same-sex marriage, or that men are at risk because of the accusations of the Me Too movement, or that White folks were being harmed by the teaching of critical race theory, or, especially at this time of year, that Christmas itself was under attack, then I would probably be applauded. I wouldn’t be accused of being “too political.” I’m guessing I wouldn’t hear that as Christians “we are not of this world.”

The problem, then, isn’t that I’ve taken a side, but which side I’ve have taken. Have I taken the side of those who are losing their positions of privilege and power in a changing society, or have I, reading the Jesus story through the lens of oppressed people, chosen to speak out alongside communities that for too long have been crying out for justice and change? Social location matters. Which communities in which social locations have we chosen to speak out alongside?

This Advent season, may we stand in the spirit of John and Jesus, and carve out time to listen to those calling for justice and change in our day. May we make time to listen to Indigenous communities and immigrants; to trans, lesbian, gay and bisexual people; let’s listen to Black and Brown people; to women and religious minorities in our communities; and let’s listen to those who, economically, daily scratch and scrape to survive on the losing side of our economic games.

If Jesus really did begin as a disciple of John, what was it about John’s preaching that resonated so deeply? Was it concern for what people were unjustly suffering within a system structured to benefit others at their expense? Jesus repeated and enlarged these themes in his own life and teachings.

How can we, as Jesus-followers during Advent season, continue John’s and Jesus’ work in our own settings today?

 

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. How does Advent call you to focus on concrete forms of justice work in our society today? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


 


 

Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

 

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

Advent, Hope, and Living on the Margins

[To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast click here.]

ornament with a church in it's reflection

Herb Montgomery | December 3, 2021


“The gospel message here, and one of my favorite Advent themes, is that salvation, change, and liberation don’t come from the center of our societies, but from the margins. . . . Advent tells a liberation story that 2,000 years ago inspired hope in those who were being forced to live on their own society’s margins. Can it for us today?”


Our reading this week is from the Gospel of Luke:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

  A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.

Every valley shall be filled in,

every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

the rough ways smooth.

And all people will see Gods salvation.’ ” (Luke 3:1-6)

I love this week’s Advent reading for so many reasons.

The narrative has the “word of God” coming to John in an unusual location. John was a son of Zechariah the priest (Luke 1:5) and therefore, by lineage, he should not be in the wilderness acting like an ancient Hebrew prophet. He should have been occupying his place in the temple services, being a priest like his father. Instead, John rejected the path of working in the system or changing the system from the inside. I can imagine the struggle John might have gone through when he told his father that he wasn’t going to follow the family expectations and abandon a path toward priesthood for the margins of his society, the edges, and the wilderness.

The narrative’s contrast between the temple versus the wilderness resurrects a tension repeated by the Hebrew prophets: the centralized temple state and its priesthood versus those on the margins or edges of their society. The Hebrew prophets in the wilderness called for justice, for liberation, and for all violence against society’s vulnerable to cease.

This contrast takes on even more meaning when one realizes that one national myth of the Judean Temple-state was that Jerusalem and the Temple would eventually become the center of the world and all nations would flow to it. Consider these passages. All emphasis is added:

Psalms 2:6I have installed my king

on Zion, my holy mountain [the temple in Jerusalem].”

Psalms 14:7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! [Jerusalem and the Temple]

When the LORD restores his people,

let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad! (emphasis added)

Psalms 69:35-46- for God will save Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple]

and rebuild the cities of Judah.

Then people will settle there and possess it; the children of his servants will inherit it,

and those who love his name will dwell there.

Psalms 102:15-16 The nations will fear the name of the LORD,

all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.

  For the LORD will rebuild Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple]

and appear in his glory.

  He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;

he will not despise their plea.

  Let this be written for a future generation,

that a people not yet created may praise the LORD:

  The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high,

from heaven he viewed the earth,

to hear the groans of the prisoners

and release those condemned to death.”

So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple]

and his praise in Jerusalem

when the peoples and the kingdoms

assemble to worship the LORD.

Isaiah 4:5- Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple] and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy.

Isaiah 18:7 At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD Almighty

from a people tall and smooth-skinned,

from a people feared far and wide,

an aggressive nation of strange speech,

whose land is divided by rivers—

the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion [Jerusalem and the Temple], the place of the Name of the LORD Almighty.

Isaiah 60:10-14Foreigners will rebuild your walls,

and their kings will serve you.

Though in anger I struck you,

in favor I will show you compassion.

Your gates will always stand open,

they will never be shut, day or night,

so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations

their kings led in triumphal procession.

For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish;

it will be utterly ruined.

The glory of Lebanon will come to you,

the juniper, the fir and the cypress together,

to adorn my sanctuary;

and I will glorify the place for my feet.

The children of your oppressors will come bowing before you;

all who despise you will bow down at your feet

and will call you the City of the LORD,

Zion of the Holy One of Israel. [Jerusalem and the Temple] (emphasis added)

In the gospels, John rejects all of this. He turns his back on the city and its temple and takes up residence along the margins or the wilderness of his own society. The gospel message here, and one of my favorite Advent themes, is that salvation, change, and liberation don’t come from the center of our societies, but from the margins.

In Say to This Mountain by Ched Myers, Marie Dennis, Joseph Nangle, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, and Stuart Taylor, the authors write,

“The experience of wilderness is common to the vast majority of people in the world. Their reality is at the margins of almost everything that is defined by the modern Western world as ‘the good life.’ This wilderness has not been created by accident. It is the result of a system stacked against many people and their communities, whose lives and resources are exploited to benefit a very small minority at the centers of power and privilege. It is created by lifestyles that deplete and pollute natural resources . . . Wilderness is the residue of war and greed and injustice.” (Say to This Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, p. 11)

Advent begins by birthing hope within people who live in the wildernesses of their society: it tells  them that their lived experience on the margins of any society is not the result of divine will but the result of social, political, economic and religious forces wielded by the privileged and the powerful in our communities.

Our reading from Luke this week also corrects a conflation of passages we first read in Mark’s gospel:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

  I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way” —

a voice of one calling in the wilderness,

Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.’ ” (Mark 1:1-3)

These words were not from the same source but from Exodus, Malachi, and Isaiah.

See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20)

I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:1)

These words from Exodus speak of the liberation of Hebrew slaves and those from other groups who left Egypt with them. I question what the indigenous peoples of Canaan thought about this, given the history of how this same narrative was used against indigenous people here in America. We must be careful to remember that the liberation of one community should not mean the genocide of another.

The context of the passage from Malachi is God coming to God’s temple opposing “those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice” (Malachi 3:5). Because of this passage, I think of those today who must work more than 40 hours each week for less pay than they need to on .

Luke’s gospel drops these references to Exodus and Malachi and keep only the passage from Isaiah, though Luke will use the passage from Exodus and Malachi later in the Jesus story to refer to John:

“This is the one about whom it is written: I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” (Luke 7:27)

The passage in Isaiah reads, “A voice of one calling: In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”

Both John and Jesus emerge from the margins of their society and come to liberate oppressed people and restore justice to them. The gospels describe John as the forerunner for the reign of God that Jesus taught. Jesus came calling for change. But change doesn’t just happen.

Before any social change has ever taken place, years of groundwork has been laid. Many of those who did that initial ground work never lived long enough to see the fruit of their labor. They worked for a generation yet to come. Change doesn’t always take that long either: we can always choose change today.

But I think of changes taking place presently in the state of Georgia as just one example. The political changes we are witnessing in Georgia result from years of ground work by so many people including Stacey Abrams.

Changes today also depend on the work of generations who have gone before us. People chose to do the work they did not knowing for sure that change would come. They chose to live the kind of lives they lived because that was the type of people either they were and they refused to let the system shape them. They lived their life in a way that, even if they didn’t change the system, at least the system wouldn’t change them. Others did their work simply because it was the right thing to do. And still others labored because they hoped that one day, society would “reach the promised land” whether they were there to witness it or not.

This week’s reading includes two highly charged religious words: repentance and forgiveness.

If it helps, think of repentance as “thinking about things differently.” It’s much more about experiencing a paradigm shift than it is about the negative connotations religious abuse usually attaches to the term. Remember, too, that although contemporary Christianity often discusses forgiveness in the context of personal, individual morality, for the Hebrew prophets forgiveness and repentance sat in the context of calls for systemic justice and liberating a nation from injustice’s harmful effects. The Hebrew prophetic tradition speaks of sin as social injustice, repentance as turning away from that social injustice, and forgiveness as social restoration from that social injustice.

This is the context of John’s message that his listeners change their unjust ways for God’s reign. God’s just future was near.

I think of our society now. I think of LGBTQ justice work, racial justice work, and justice work for women. I think of economic justice for those our system pushes into poverty. I think of indigenous justice, and climate justice. So many justice movements are presently engaging our world, seeking to make it a safer, compassionate, just home for everyone.

During this Advent season, I also think of the Jesus story, not as only a Christian story to celebrate at Christmas time, but as a liberation story that 2,000 years ago inspired hope in those who were being forced to live on their own society’s margins.

What does Advent have to say to those living on the margins in our world today?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. How does Advent speak of liberation for you? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



End of Year Matching Donations!

2021 has been a year of big challenges. Doing ministry during an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of change along with moments of heartwarming providence and blessings.

As this year is coming to a close, I’m deeply humbled and thankful for all of you who read, listen to, and share RHM’s work.  I’m also grateful for the actions you have taken to make our world a safer, compassionate, just home for all. Thank you for being such an important part of our community, and for your continued support.

Thanks to a kind donor, who also believes in our work, we are able to extend matching donations through the end of month of December.  All donation this month will be matched, dollar for dollar, making your support of Renewed Heart Ministries, and the work we do, go twice as far.

Your support enables RHM to continue providing much needed resources to help Jesus-followers find the intersection between their faith and labors of love, compassion, and justice in our world today.

As 2021 ends, we invite you to consider making a donation to Renewed Heart Ministries to make the most of this very kind offer.

You can donate online by clicking online at renewedheartministries.com and clicking “Donate.”

Or you can make a donation by mail at:

Renewed Heart Ministries

PO Box 1211

Lewisburg, WV 24901

Thank you in advance for your continued support.

This coming year, together, we will continue being a voice for change.