Kahu's Mana‘o

Keawala‘i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)

Third Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 12, 2010

“Heartbeat of Justice”

Isaiah 40:3-11 & Luke 1:47-55

There is a hapa-haole phrase – a half Hawaiian, half English phrase – we grew up using to describe something that goes topsy-turvy or something that is turned upside down. I have heard it used in different ways sometimes in reference to someone who may have taken an unexpected fall but without injury. On such occasions it is said with relief and gratitude.

“’Auwë, Auntie wen huli-over.” Or, “Oh, my goodness, Auntie fell over but she is alright.”

On other occasions it may be used to express shock or dismay especially in reference to someone who may have died unexpectedly. “Uncle was here one moment and then he jus wen huli-over.” Or “Uncle was here one moment and then he had a heart attack and died. It was so sudden.”

Our reading from The Gospel According to Luke contains a “huli-over” story or a story of how the world was turned upside down as a result of the birth of Jesus. The coming of the Messiah is anticipated and proclaimed not by angles or priests, emperors or preachers. Instead, it is proclaimed by two pregnant women who carry the future in their wombs. (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 95)

Robert Redman, Dean and Associate Professor of Theology and Ministry at Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon points out that of the two women – one is “young, poor, and unwed, the other far beyond the age to conceive.” (Op. cit.) The women meet in the hill country of Judea to celebrate their remarkable pregnancies.

Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. When she enters Elizabeth’s home and greets her it is said that the baby in Elizabeth’s womb “wen huli-over.” Or as Elizabeth put it, “As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:44)

It is indeed an odd and joyful story. Through the birth of their own sons, the world “wen huli-over.” Hierarchies are subverted. The mighty are brought down.

When Mary sings her song she does so aware of her place in a society that regards her as a lowly servant. Yet she is aware that God is about to turn the world upside down.

God will scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God will bring down the powerful from their thrones, and lift up the lowly; God will fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51b-53)

We begin to perceive in Mary’s song a reversal of all that society expects with regard to God’s power and justice.” (Seasons of the Spirit, Pentecost 2, Year C, Wood Lake Publishing Inc., Kelowna, BC, Canada, 2010, page 48) The political, social and religious significance of the subversive character of Jesus’ birth is something we cannot ignore. And so the joyful, good news to some like Mary and Elizabeth becomes threatening to those in power.

Given God’s reversal of fortunes (Luke 1:52-53) it would be seem that Luke intends to drive the wealthy and powerful to despair, but if these verses are read in light of the examples of the stories that follow about the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30) or Zacchaeus, the tax collector (19:1-10) what we begin to realize is the wealthy are called upon to deal with their wealth in ways that bring them into a positive relationship with the poor in order to that they too may share in the promise of salvation. (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 97)

Such a transformation may seem impossible in our own day given the debate over taxes and tax cuts in Washington, D.C. this past week. But as recently as Friday we learned that Giving Pledge, an effort led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffet to commit the wealthiest people in the United States to step up their charitable donations, signed up another 17 people to share their wealth.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, one of the youngest to make the pledge, was joined by junk bond pioneer Michael Milken and AOL co-founder Steve Case in making a promise to give away most of their wealth. The campaign began in June and to date 57 people and their families have made the pledge. Although the pledge is not a formal contract, those who make it are committing to give away at least half of their wealth to philanthropic causes either in their lifetime or after they die. (The Maui News, Friday, December 10, 2010, B5)

Were Zacchaeus the tax collector alive today he would be among those making a Giving Pledge. It was while Jesus was with him in his home that Zacchaeus said, “Half of my possessions, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:8-9)

We find in Zacchaeus’ actions and in the heart-to-heart conversation between Mary and Elizabeth, a reversal of all that society expects with regard to God’s power and justice. (Seasons of the Spirit, Pentecost 2, Year C, Wood Lake Publishing Inc., Kelowna, BC, Canada, 2010, page 48)

God chooses young Mary to be the mother of Jesus. Her prophetic voice invites us to rejoice in God’s work of justice, a work that seems shocking and upside down. But her heartbeat becomes our heartbeat as we bear this vision of justice to the world.

There is a store in Wailuku at the corner of Market and Vineyard that will be closing its doors on December 28th. The store opened on November 5th.

“Pono . . . Do What Is Right” is the name of store that features products which mix material and message. There are Pono stickers, T-shirts, bags, water bottles, visors, hats and more.

For owners Jon and Maile Viela, pono has become a message that was born, in part, out of the tragic death of their 3-year-old son, Pono. Pono was a passenger on an all-terrain vehicle who died when it flipped over in the summer of 2004. (The Maui News, Sunday, December 5, 2010, C1& C3)

At his memorial service 300 stickers that said, “Pono . . . Do What is Right?” were handed out to those gathered for a Mass at St. Anthony Catholic Church on the one year anniversary of Pono’s death. T-shirts in honor of Pono were made. In time, the Vielas said the demand for the other products grew.

But Pono’s father, Jon, said “The value of pono is not because of our store, our product or our tragedy.” The value is in recognizing that the choices we make “affect our family, our friends, our community our world.” In many ways pono runs counter to other slogans that value living for one’s self.

In our Hawaiian language Bible the word pono is used primarily in two ways – in reference to justice and in reference to righteousness. The message is clear: Do the right thing. Do what is right. Do what is just.

As Mary arrives at Elizabeth’s home it is her cousin’s unborn child who will be the prophet John the Baptizer that leaps for joy at her greeting. Mary responds to this sign of God’s blessing by singing the glory of God’s powerful love that has chosen her to carry the Christ child.

She sings because God acts with justice and with mercy to lift up those who are considered lowly. The proud are scattered and the hungry are fed.

As we continue through this season of Advent and prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we do so mindful that in him all our expectations of what God’s justice and power are like are huli-over. Mahalo ke Akua. Amen.

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