Dr Kate Harrison Brennan launches our Advent series with a reflection on Christ interrupting our world in a beautiful, political and dramatic way.
Gershon Nimbalker is the Advocacy Manager at Baptist World Aid Australia.
Today's reading is Luke 2:21-24
I had just walked out of a meeting with one of Australia’s largest fashion retailers. We had been sparring about exploitation in their supply chains – my team had been pushing them to do more, they had felt they were doing more than enough. After all, how much effort can a company be expected to put in to ensure that the stuff they sell isn’t made by slaves, children or the otherwise exploited?
I walked back onto the main street to find the Christmas frenzy in full swing. Shoppers were scurrying in and out of stores, their bags bulging with gifts. The street was lavishly adorned; lights, trees, baubles. It was indeed beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and consumerism was thick in the air.
My ‘grinchiness’ was rising rapidly. And then... it spiked off the chart.
There, in the outlet window of the very retailer I had just heard justifying their business’s implicit reliance on exploited workers, was a nativity scene. How had Christ, the saviour of the world, the bringer of good news to the poor and vulnerable, been co-opted so? Here He was not just a sanitised onlooker to this excess of damaging consumerism, but somehow twisted into the very reason for it.
Today’s reading reminds me that my shop window encounter with ‘Jesus’ is far from the first time He had turned up in unexpected places in unexpected ways.
The Israelites were expecting their Lord to arrive in fire and fury. His chariots as terrible as the whirlwind, He would bring judgement to their enemies, and restoration for His people.
But Luke reminds us that the God of the Universe, snuck into the world as a baby, born into a poor Israelite family. As was expected of Hebrew children, Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day and underwent the purification rites on the 40th. Joseph and Mary could only afford the sacrifices allotted to the poor of Israel, not the lambs that that were assumed by custom, but the ‘two doves or pigeons’ that were appropriate for the poor.
It’s perplexing that this is how God chose to become man. Not arriving with power and privilege, but coming to us in vulnerability and poverty. There is indeed profound and unexpected beauty in this moment. It becomes a hallmark of the revolution that Jesus initiates. A revolution, unlike those that had come before and since. It was not one of coercive force and violence, it was a revolution shaped by solidarity, sacrifice and vulnerability. To change the world, it would seem, humanity would need to change, not by forcing their hand, but by changing their heart.
I’ve had time to reflect on my encounter with the ‘storefront Jesus’. While I still think it’s an icon of how much our culture has been able to mangle the Jesus story, on reflection, it’s also become a symbol of unexpected hope.
Culturally, I think we’re most of the way towards getting the zeal for Christmas correct, we’ve just directed it in the wrong way. What if we could change that? What if our Christmas iconography, rather than endorsing our consumer shaped culture, became a reminder that the world is in desperate need of change?
Just as Christ reshaped what it meant to be a Messiah for Israel, what if we could help reshape what Christ means for our culture. What if the Church, and what if we, could show that this whole Christmas thing, is where the revolution began. A revolution of solidarity, sacrifice and vulnerability. A revolution of love.
And for me, this Christmas, there is profound and unexpected beauty in that hope.
Daily Reading Luke 2:21-24
Jesus Is Named
21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Jesus Is Presented in the Temple
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”