As Christmas draws nigh, we turn to the infancy stories to establish the identity of Jesus. Matthew’s and Luke’s infancy narratives were not part of the original kerygma. Yet, we cannot and should not dismiss their importance. The accounts were added to show how Jesus fulfilled the promise of the Hebrew Scriptures. Remember that the early church–the Jesus Movement–was very Jewish. In fact, the people would attend the synagogue on Saturday and would hold “home” liturgies on Sunday. In the late 1st century CE, there was a rift and the Jesus Movement dissociated itself from Judaism.
Today’s readings draw a comparison between Manoah and his ever-nameless wife and Zachariah and Elizabeth, who was Army’s cousin. The comparison between their offspring, Samson and John the Baptizer, is also very explicit.
Again, God shows God’s power. Two very post-menopausal women conceive and bear special sons. Samson will deliver the people from the grasp of the Philistines. John will prepare a people worthy of God. He will prepare the way for Jesus. In both cases, God is intervening in history to usher in a better life for God’s people. All too often we mistake the symbol for the reality. When we understand metaphors literally, they lose their meaning. Old women giving birth is a metaphor for the power of God.
I still wonder why Zachariah asked a question of the heavenly messenger and was struck dumb. Mary also asked a question and she was not struck dumb. Just wondering! God’s ways are not our ways.
I attended a meeting of our local chapter of the Order of St. Luke the Physician this week. It was the first meeting I was able to attend after being inducted into the Order in August. Part of the meeting was devoted to “God moments.” Members of the group shred their stories about God’s intervention in their lives. I got a deep sense that God is still at work in history, in our time, bringing healing to God’s people. God is at work bringing to completion the task of our salvation, healing, and wholeness. Skeptics may scoff but I know that God has been at work in my life. I know that God has healed me in many ways. I know that God is continuing to heal me.
We must remember, however, that healing is never just for the individual. Healing is God’s work in and for the community. Healing brings wholeness and health. When God works in history, God is working to do exactly what Jesus the Christ did–give sight to the blind, set captives free, deliver the oppressed.
St. Teresa of Avila has taught us that God has no hands, eyes, ears, or feet but ours. We are God in the world. We are becoming Jesus as God works to divinize us. Our mission is then the very same as Jesus’ mission. We are to challenge the unjust structures which bind people in oppression. We are to bring healing, restore relationships, and set all things right. We are ushering in the Kin-dom, the new world order set in motion by Jesus.
Demons played a major role in Jesus’ healing ministry. Scripture scholars tell us that demons represent the illness that comes from people who are oppressed. It would not have been safe to say that the Roman oppressors and their Jewish collaborators are making me less than whole. It was safe to say that a person was possessed by a demon. In one case, the name of the demon was Legion–a division in the occupier’s army which was a daily reminder to the people of their oppression.
Occupiers still oppress people today. One striking example is the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis. The very people who sought refuge in a new land because of the horrors of the Holocaust have become the oppressor of yet another people. The beat of oppression goes on. Freud called this repetition compulsion–we do unto others what has been done unto us.
Members of Catholic , Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican and Baptist traditions in the Palestinian Christian community issued a statement in Bethlehem December 11 called the “Palestine Kairos Document.” The document is a courageous attempt to break the vicious cycle of repetition compulsion. The document calls for an end to the oppression of Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians. I encourage you to read this very informative documents which reflects biblical principles of love and justice, dialogue and communication. (http://www.oikoumene.org/fileadmin/files/wcc-main/2009pdfs/Kairos%20Palestine_En.pdf)
This document represents one of many attempts to bring about the Kin-dom among us. The United Nations climate agreement, while less than many people wanted, is another step toward bringing in the Kin-dom in terms of care for creation.
God is at work. God will not be shut out. God wants us to have “life and everything we need” (Jn 10:10). The God who helps barren old women bring forth deliverers will bring forth deliverance for us. God will bring all things to completion.