Imagine with me for a moment what might happen in a world in which the rich and powerful controlled all the resources and took advantage of those who were weak or in a position of less power on a regular basis. In this world, maybe no one thought twice about whether this was the right thing to do or not. There was a sense that those who had the power and wealth had earned it through their own hard work and those who had little were in that situation because they didn’t work hard enough.
Now suppose a group of folks who have lived lives of privilege in this world began for one reason or another to think that maybe with a little help, those who had barely enough to survive would have a better chance of earning enough to live a more secure life if they had just a little bit more money for food, or maybe got to attend better schools, or had a roof over their heads. So they declare a War on Poverty and begin spending money to make big changes in availability of food, housing, and education. And things begin to get better for those at the bottom of the ladder. Poverty doesn’t go away. Those at the bottom still have little chance of jumping clear up into the top ranks of their society, but their lives get easier and more secure.
Often we think that change has to come through formal programs, with large amounts of money being spent. In fact, for that kind of broad economic and societal change, large amounts of money are necessary in a big society. But what leads those who can put such sums together to take such steps to help?
We get a hint in the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. In these readings we see what might be described as God’s recipe for change. The Lord God often wants to see big changes in the way we interact with each other and with God. But God doesn’t come riding onto the scene like some sort of hero in a movie, with guns blazing and large numbers of soldiers on either side. God works very quietly through ordinary people.
Micah was a prophet around the same time as Isaiah and Jeremiah. He came from the hill country and called the people of Judah back to faithfulness to the covenant. This was during the time when the Assyrians were conquering the kingdoms to the north. Micah warned the people and their leaders that God was not happy with their worship of idols and failure to take care of the poor and unprotected of their world. He warned that Judah would also be conquered and the people sent into exile. Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed as punishment for their unfaithfulness.
But Micah didn’t stop with the prophecy of destruction of the nation, he spoke God’s promise to restore the land and its people (Mi 5:1-4a). A new ruler would come, born of an ancient family, and lead the people to true peace and prosperity. The family of the new ruler would be from Bethlehem, a very small town close to Jerusalem, but so small that conquering kings wouldn’t bother with it. Bethlehem was the hometown of David, the second king of Israel. The Lord had promised that the Messiah would come from David’s line.
Jeremiah, another prophet from about the same period, mentioned that Micah’s teaching influenced King Hezekiah to begin some reforms. The early Christians remembered Micah’s words promising the coming of the Messiah and recognized Jesus as the one whose coming had been predicted so long ago.
The author of Hebrews (Heb 10:5-10) also speaks of the work of one who comes with little fanfare or wealth, but is responsible for bringing about major changes. Jesus comes not with an army of angels, but rather with only his own human body and the willingness to obey the will of the father. Jesus speaks the words of the Father so faithfully that it leads to the cross. He continues to obey, faithful even in the face of a terrible public execution. “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,” he says, quoting the prophets. But he gives his own body, his own life, in fulfillment of his Father’s will. This sacrifice replaces the old tradition of animal sacrifice. Doing God’s will is what matters in the end, not how many animals are sacrificed.
Again, we see one person responding to God’s call and spreading the news of God’s care for all people. The faithfulness of that one person has been multiplied countless times in the centuries that followed his life.
Finally, today we hear the story of Elizabeth and Mary (Lk 1:39-45). Two cousins. One an older woman who had never been able to conceive and bear a child. The other a girl barely old enough to have a child. A girl who is not even married or making a home with her husband yet. The girl, having received news of her cousin’s pregnancy, hurries to visit her cousin and rejoice with her. When Elizabeth sees Mary approaching, she calls out a beautiful greeting, inspired by the Holy Spirit. “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary is blessed because she believed the promise delivered by God’s angel and consented to be part of God’s recipe for change in the world. She would bear and raise a son who would grow up to be the long-awaited one through whom God would change the world. Elizabeth, pregnant with the final prophet, the one who would introduce Jesus to the world through his own followers, salutes her cousin as the child in her womb leaps for joy.
Each of these stories tells of individuals whose response to God’s call set in motion changes that have affected millions of people. Much of what we take for granted today did not exist before people received God’s message of love and care for the least protected or powerful among us. Schools for all. Hospitals that care for all who come in need of help. Public libraries. Women’s rights. Representative government. Health care for the poor and middle class, as well as the rich. So many, many blessings we all take for granted.
Is it all done yet? No. Is there more that needs to be done to make this world more in line with God’s vision? Absolutely. Do we need to have armies or major financial backing to begin to make a difference? No. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open to hear the messages sent to each of us by our God. We each have a role to play in God’s plan. Like a good recipe for bread or stew, many things come together to make a rich and satisfying dish. The work of many individuals alone and together also bears fruit.
In this final week of Advent, let’s take a little time to listen for the call of God. What is it that God is calling us to do? What gifts and talents do we have that we can share? What are we already doing?
Few of us will ever be famous or recognized for major changes to the structure of society or to the sum total of human knowledge. But each of us is called to do something. It may be something very small. That’s OK. Just be open and do what the Lord sends that needs your touch. And together we can begin to bridge the chasms of disagreement, anger, distrust, and even hatred that so afflict our world today.
God’s recipe for change: Start small.Read More