Third Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 15, 2013
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
In 2007, actors Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman appeared in the film The Bucket List. The film was about two terminally ill men who escape from a cancer ward and go on a road trip with a wish list of “to-dos” before they die.
As a consequence of the film, the phrase “bucket list” has been popularized to mean a list of things to do before one dies, or before one “kicks the bucket.” Apparently the phrase comes from the Middle Ages when a common form of death was execution by hanging. When a person was about to die, someone would “kick the bucket” the person was standing on from underneath their feet.
“Who knew,” someone asked “that such a joyous list could come from such a depressing topic?” As we enter the third week of Advent the contrast between joy and despair is reflected in our preparations for Christmas. We would prefer Christmas pageants filled with shepherds and angels and a baby Jesus bathed in the warm glow of a fire to Mary’s song of praise in which God brings down the proud, powerful and prosperous.
The Rev. Daniel Harrell is the Kahu Mua or Senior Pastor at Colonial Church in Edina, Minnesota. He writes: (Mary) “belts out a triumphant tune, praising God for the salvation emerging from her womb, a Savior to rescue those browbeaten and bankrupted by Roman tyranny. ‘He has shown strength with his arm,’ she sings, ‘he has scattered the proud . . . brought down the mighty from their thrones . . . he has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53; The Christian Century, Chicago, Illinois, December 11, 2013, page 17)
Harrell explains, “The proud, the powerful and the prosperous get depicted throughout the Gospels as God’s enemies – not because they are rich and powerful, but because of the ways they abuse their riches and power. They presumptuously grab social status and clout, excluding those considered to be unacceptable – the humble, the weak and the poor.” (Op. cit.)
You and I know that we tend to label those whom we exclude from our lives as “less fortunate,” but in most cases fortune has nothing to do with the condition of their lives. Instead, it is often because of the callous indifference of others that they suffer. We have convinced ourselves all anyone who is poor needs to do is pull themselves up out of poverty, go to school and get a job.
Harrell makes a point worth noting. Mary is not singing to make anyone feel guilty. She is singing about a hope that will be fulfilled in the birth of a child. In time it will be this child who will enter the synagogue in Nazareth as a young man and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: “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 Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:14-19)
Mary’s song of hope is fulfilled in that reading.
An article appeared in The Maui News yesterday that read: “Maui County Red Kettle donations down 35 percent.” Donations for the Salvation Army’s Christmas Red Kettle campaign have declined 30 percent statewide and they are down 35 percent in Maui County.
Major John Chamness, the divisional commander, said “We are concerned about ... how this will impact our ability to help those who are hurting here in Hawaiʻi.” Kettle gifts help provide meals and shelter for families in need, Christmas toys for children and other services throughout the year. (The Maui News, Saturday, December 14, 2013, A3)
In that same issue, a cartoon illustration appeared on the editorial page showing a red kettle, a hand bell on the ground, and a scroll attached to the kettle which read: “Help the poor, homeless, hungry, jobless, elderly, children, sick, lonely, helpless, abused, working poor, addicted, single parents, disabled, indigent, depressed, suffering, infirm, physically challenged, underprivileged, illiterate, wronged, mentally ill, uneducated... ”
To the right of the cartoon are the words: “The Bucket List.” I found myself wondering if the cartoon was meant to suggest that the decline in giving to the Salvation Army could lead to its demise and as a consequence, the Salvation Army with how to respond to the needs of those on its own “bucket list.” I also wondered if it was meant to be a political commentary on the role of government and its inability to respond to a host of human needs.
For Mary there is no bucket list of things to do. Mary is not preoccupied with death but with life. She is about to give birth to a baby boy and there is much to do in preparation for his birth.
Given the way of the world where power, prestige and possessions seem to rule the day, we can become quickly jaded and fatigued by the needs of those on the margins of society – the poor, homeless, hungry, jobless and so many others. Mary’s song of praise compels us to do what is just; to respond to the needs of others.
Members of the U.S. Congress left this week for their holiday without extending unemployment benefits for over 1 million Americans. It is likely that many will be pushed into poverty. Shame on all of them.
The Rev. Donald Schmidt served as the Kahu of Waiola Church in Lāhainā several years ago. He recently returned to Hawaiʻi after serving a church in the Pacific Northwest. He accepted the call to serve as an Associate Conference Minister of the Hawaiʻi Conference – United Church of Christ.
In his reflections on our reading from The Gospel According to Luke, he writes: “We must not leave (Mary) in the stable, simply as the gentle mother, invariably clad in blue, who birthed baby Jesus and held him close. For while she is indeed that, she is much, much more.”
“Mary is the one who proclaimed the prophetic actions of God that began with the announcement of Christ’s birth, and the transformation of our world that was about to occur. Mary is the one who dared to sing out that the world would never be the same again because of the birth of Jesus.” (In the Beginning: Creation Spirituality for the Days of Advent, Donald Schmidt, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2007, pages 95-98)
So today and throughout this season of Advent, we join our voices with Mary and we sing: “From age to age, to all who fear, such love imparts, dispensing justice far and near, dismissing selfish hearts.” Thanks be to God.