the politics of jesus: yoder (entry 2)

The second movement in the book of Luke is also full of political statement and anticipation.  The angel, again Gabriel, comes to visit Mary in Nazareth.  He comes to her in the same way he approached Zechariah in the temple, bringing news of a birth.  He makes some political statements about a new kingdom that God is going to establish through the birth of her son.

He says, “And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Associating Jesus with David was a statement of political importance.  David was Israel’s great king, and both Mary and her fiancé Joseph were descendants of David.  She, of course, would know this to be true.  But even more interesting is that the angel tells her that he will reign from David’s throne and that his kingdom will never end.  What else could Mary expect other than a political revolution that would free her people from the oppression of Rome?

Mary responds in the same way that Zechariah did to the angel.  “How will this happen?  I am a virgin.”  Instead of giving her consequence for her question of how, the angel explains what will happen.  He tells her “therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.”  A new Caesar.  The Son of God.  God sends his messenger into history, to proclaim that a new kingdom is coming and that it will be brought about in a time of extreme oppression and anticipation.

Mary responds to all of this in her famous Magnificat.  Interestingly, her prayer is very similar to Hannah’s and Zechariah’s, envisioning a new kingdom that does not look like the kingdoms of this world.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.”

An upside-down kingdom, where the hungry are full and the rich are empty, is approaching.  The excitement that Zechariah and Mary feel are understandable only in the context of anticipation of deliverance from oppression.  Yet, they don’t use language of destruction, but redemption.  They both see that God is about to set things right, to even the playing field.

At this point, Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph were required to travel to Bethlehem, the city of David, for a census, further reinforcing the idea that this is a political event of major importance that is happening.  The symbolism of his birth in David’s city would not be lost on his readers.

Then a story is told of an angel bringing more news to unimportant people.  The angels appear to shepherds who are in the field at night, and they bring a gospel saying.

“Fear not, for behold I bring you good news (gospel) of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Caesar’s gospel is one of victory.  “Good news, we won again, and Caesar is great!”  This gospel is not one of victory.  It is one of “a great joy” for everyone.  This gospel tells of a Savior, literally a deliverer, and his name is Christ.  This is yet another pronouncement of things being set right, that God is ready and preparing to make all things new again.  The shepherds are so excited that they go into town to find this “Christ”.  When they do, they share what has been told to them, and they leave again worshipping God for all that they heard and all that they had been given the privilege to see.

The final act in this part of the story takes place again in the temple, when Jesus is being circumcised.  There were two old people who had been waiting their entire lives for this moment.  They had been watching and praying and listening to God, who revealed to them that they would see the Savior who would deliver Israel.  They may or may not have envisioned this deliverance in the way that God had planned it, but they knew that they would see it come to fulfillment.

The first character is Simeon, who we are told was “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.”  Luke says the Holy Spirit was upon him.  Look at what Simeon says.

“And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’”

This man Simeon had received a promise, and he believed it.  When he saw Jesus, he knew that God’s promise had come to pass.  He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, the time when Israel would be restored and a new kingdom would be established.  And when he held Jesus, he knew that that time was at hand.  Wow.  Not only for Israel, but also for the Gentiles.  Not only for you, but for me.

The second character is Anna, a prophetess.  She was 84 years old and never left the temple, “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”  Look what Luke says about her.

“And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Seeing Jesus, Anna starts spreading the news that the redemption of Jerusalem, of Israel, is now coming to pass.  She has been waiting her whole life for this moment, and when it comes, she goes and tells everyone else about it.  The implication here is that there were many others who were waiting for God’s redemption.  The problem is that his redemption is not coming in the way they expect.  They expect a political revolution that will bring a kingdom of greatness back to Israel.  God is bringing a new kingdom that is of heaven, that will turn everything upside down and challenge the status quo.

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