Not that Kind of Baptist

in Advent

Mary's Song

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Image: This is a photograph of a wooden icon hanging in my office, painted by iconographer Kelly Latimore called Refugees: La Sagrada Familia.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. Luke 1:53

            At this time of the year, Mary's song is always close to our lips.  The Magnificat, from the Latin for "to magnify" is the canticle sung by Mary, the mother of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.  It is one of the most subversive pieces of poetic theology ever sung.  

            I have to confess that these prophetic words from the Magnificat hit a little too close to home.  I have never experienced hunger in the sense that Mary must have meant it.  The kind of gnawing, psychologically tortuous, and constant hunger that those who have inadequate supplies of food or have faced famine know all too well.  No, I have always been well fed.  Overfed actually. And especially around the Christmas season, this has been true. 

         Soon it will be Christmas, which has long enchanted me.  It was a time of great familial closeness in my childhood.  We would have a meal with the extended family.  There would usually be a gift exchange and the children would have some kind of skit or musical number for the adults.  I was the “baby” of the family so I was usually given the smallest role.  I think there was always a bit of cringing when the show started because you never know what a child might say.

            And of course there was food, more food than should have been served.  Christmas ham and a million side dishes.  Each family had their canonical side dishes and desserts.  You had to be seen eating a bit of everything for the common good.  “Son, go back in there and eat some more,” my MaMa would say.  She would not rest until we had all eaten four times the recommended daily caloric intake. 

            What a contrast my gorging on pumpkin rolls and Christmas ham is with the poetic imagery of Mary’s song.   Mary sings of the present social order being turned upside down.  The hungry are filled with “good things” and “sent the rich away empty.”  Think about that for a moment.  Imagine what the world would be like if that began to be experienced. 

          More likely than not the mother of Jesus was dirt poor and a teenager.  Perhaps as young as 13 or 14.  Mary.  Hers was a teenage pregnancy out of wedlock.  Her pregnancy began during the betrothal period with Joseph.  Her groom to be could have divorced her under Jewish law. 

         There is nothing in the Gospel accounts to indicate that Jesus’ parents were people of means.  No doubt they struggled with hunger, with making ends meet.  So Mary knew a thing or two about the desire to fill the hungry with “good things.”

          Worldwide there are still famines and here, in the richest country in the world, 1 in 6 children go hungry each night.  Perhaps you saw the shocking photograph of the starving child Amal Hussain, whose emaciated body appeared in the New York Times recently.  Little Amal is one of 1.8 million children starving because of the brutal civil war in Yemen.    

        For Amal, and for the 1.8 million innocent children of Yemen, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison.  May we do the little we can in our own community to fight for food justice.  May we do all we can in our world to end war. 

       The power of the icon shown above is that the image incarnates the story of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus within  the marginalized and oppressed peoples of the world.  Daily we see images of people desperate to find refuge from terror and violence.  But in this country, many would like to construct a giant wall to keep people out.  If we cannot see the image of God in those who are seeking refuge, we might just re-read Mary's song in Luke 1:46-56.  Who are we in this song?

        Mary’s song becomes more and more prophetic and relevant every year.  Christmas is almost here.  Let’s live out Mary’s song this year. 

Posted by Rev. Daniel Headrick with
Tags: advent
in Advent

Mourning in Advent

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As I meet more and more people in life, and have my own life experiences, I'm conscious that the holiday season may bring its own season of grief for those who mourn. There are some dear ones who used to gather around the table who will gather no more. So, our joy may sometimes seem overshadowed by pain.

In many Christian churches, the names of those who have died in the preceding year, along with those on our heart, are said aloud on All Saint’s Day.  We should be conscious that one day, even a few seconds within that day, is inadequate to the process of grief and healing.  Grief is like a journey, and we wonder when it will end. 

My Jewish friends tell me of the Mourner’s Kaddish and the traditions accompanying the yahrzeit (or death anniversary).  We have much to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters .  For many Christians, the rituals accompanying mourning have become more isolated, less communal, and well…lonely.  

While the rest of the world seemingly moves on, some might be caught up anew in fresh grief in this season of family togetherness and faith traditions.  Will anyone remember the profound loss we’ve experienced?  Does anyone care?  Is there something wrong with me for holding onto this pain which I play over and over again in my mind like a tape?  If you have asked something like this before, then you know the raw edge of grief.  The years might dull it slightly, but it can come back sharp as a knife at a moment’s notice. 

Advent is about a lot of things, but one thing it’s about is waiting.  Waiting for God to show up.  We are told to wait in this Advent season...to wait for something that has already occurred: the birth of Jesus. We are told to wait in this season...to wait for something which has not occurred yet: the coming again of God. Waiting is hard. We need some good news to help us with all this waiting.

The good news is that the wait is over for the coming of God into this present moment. God is already here. God has always been here. God will always be here. We need only pause today, take a deep breath, and welcome God's presence. Do that now.

Comforted by God's presence, filled with the Holy Spirit, may God encircle you with love and comfort and peace, wiping away every tear. And may this be a prayer to those who need it. 

Jesus’ last words in the Gospel of Matthew, after commissioning his disciples to teach and baptize, were these: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Let that be our benediction.  Amen.

in Advent

Peace in an Age of Violence

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Fleming Rutledge, in her marvelous introduction to a series of Advent sermons she's preached over the years (Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ), tells us something quite revealing.  Most of us familiar with the rhythms of Advent know the themes of the candles we light on the Advent wreath for the four Sundays are...Hope...Peace...Joy...and Love.  

However, in the Middle Ages, Rutledge tells us, the themes were "death, judgment, heaven, and hell--in that order!" (Advent, p. 23). 

That seems a far cry from the more Hallmark friendly themes of hope, peace, joy, and love...but hey: it was the Middle Ages after all.  We're talking about a society that was much closer to death and judgment than ours pretends to be.  We are no less immune to death; we've just created through technology and scientific advancements countless ways of postponing and lessening death's sting.  They didn't have the CDC in the 14th century.  

But I for one am glad our theme is not death.  We live in a death saturated culture, so it is fitting that this coming Sunday, December 9, we'll light the candle of peace.

And in a culture dominated by gun violence, that's a very counter-cultural act.  In a society in which we've been at war with something called "terrorism" since September 11, 2001, lighting a candle of peace is downright subversive.  

If we are to truly light this candle and embrace its symbolism, direction, and meaning, we should be open to the possibility that God will change our entire life.  

Jesus says pronounced peace again and again in his ministry.  The Sermon on the Mount says "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."  (Matt. 5:9).   Contrast that with our secular beatitude: "Blessed are the gun-dealers!"  

Jesus taught that there was a deeper spiritual meaning to Torah than the literal words would imply.  The Sixth Commandment ("Thou shalt not kill") was the floor for ethical responsibility according to Jesus.  Those called to live in God's reign should see that the mere attitude of anger towards a brother or sister would make them "liable to judgment" (Matthew 5:21). 

Peace, as taught by Jesus, is not simply the avoidance of killing.  Peace is an entire way of life; an entire spiritual transformation in our hearts; an entire change in our very being.  

Jesus taught that the law of Lex talionis which said "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" was no longer governing for those living under God's reign.  "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."  Jesus taught "turn the other cheek" but society teaches "Stand Your Ground!"  

Peace begins in our heart, transforming our spirit of anger (which arises from our ego) against our neighbor into love of neighbor and love of enemy.  Peace is a profound spiritual way of life, not merely assent to an attitude or a belief (like "Just War Theory"). 

But peace, if it is to be truly transformative, must have real world consequences for Christian ethical practice.  In other words, it is not simply good feelings we carry in our hearts concerning our neighbor.  Peace is fidelity to the Cross-bearing Jesus, who instead of calling down twelve legions of angels when he could have wiped out the Romans who were about to execute him, consented to dying on a cross.  

Peace means that our idolatrous obsession with the Second Amendment and the culture of the gun must yield to fidelity to the Prince of Peace, Jesus.

Peace means that our anger towards neighbor which threatens to consume must be transformed by the Holy Spirit into love.

Advent is no Hallmark card set of platitudes, after all.  It is downright subversive of the dominant culture.  Would we expect anything else from the God who became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth?

 

 

 

Posted by Rev. Daniel Headrick with

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About Our Church

Located in the heart of Buckhead Atlanta, Northside Drive Baptist Church is a progressive, welcoming and affirming congregation with a traditional worship service.  We are affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.   We welcome questions and feel called toward the proclamation and pursuit of social justice.   Join us for worship every Sunday at 11:00 AM.
3100 Northside Drive, N.W.
Atlanta, GA 30305

Tel: 404.237.8621
info@northsidedrive.org

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