Knowing where we’re going

Cross-posted from Rougher Places …

Advent is the season that begins the liturgical year, like a month-long pregnancy that culminates in the birth of a baby, to a prophet. If you’ve been through this cycle of stories a time or two before, you may be thinking about the days and words and songs to come. As for me, I keep thinking about the prophet’s song at her baby’s birth … but I’m getting ahead of things.

Advent is colliding this year with the end of another season, the end of the political season, in which there has been nonstop wrangling to protect policies that benefit rich people, ostensibly because their spending and good works will benefit the economy, thereby lifting all of us out of our economic quagmire. Only problem is, that hasn’t been working. The politicians and business people keep pocketing what we give them. Period. They only seem to open their pocketbooks to ensure wealthy and wealth-friendly people stay in office. And now that corporations can make political contributions as if they were people, even the sky presents no limits.

The preferences of the politicians and the wealthiest one or two percent of our nation are clear; so are the likely outcomes of those preferences: further wealth-building for the elite, and either stagnation or impoverishment for everyone else. As an op-ed piece in the New York Times has it:

We’re now at the brink of a new economic disaster that will eventually yank a chicken out of every pot. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that the extended Bush-era tax cuts will contribute by far the largest share to the next decade’s deficits — ahead of the recession’s drain on tax revenues, Iraq and Afghanistan war spending, TARP and Obama’s stimulus. The new Congress’s plan to block any governmental intervention on behalf of 15 million-plus jobless Americans guarantees that the unemployment rate, back up to 9.8 percent as of Friday, will remain intractable too.

Obama should have pounded home the case against profligate tax cuts for the wealthiest before the Democrats lost the Senate. Even now Warren Buffett — not a socialist, by the way — is making the case with a Christie-esque directness that usually eludes the president. “The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we’ll all go out and spend more, and then it will trickle down to the rest of you,” he told Christiane Amanpour on “This Week” last Sunday. “But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.”

We as a nation are not taking very good care of ourselves. We have long ago lost sight of the notion of a commonwealth, a community that takes care of the well-being each of the other. We want to trumpet that we are a Christian nation, and yet this simply is not the case, and cannot be as long as our preference is for the rich. God’s preference is — and has always been — for the poor, for whoever is the least and the lost.

Today’s Isaiah text makes that clear:

When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.

We have forsaken. And not just “the poor.” We have forsaken ourselves. Most of us don’t vote at all. Many of us struggle to find someone to vote for who reflects our values in any way. When we do manage to get someone we respect elected, they get sucked into the political maw of Washington, and lose touch with reality, learning only to do what they must to get re-elected.

We are made in the image of a God who does not forsake. We are called by this God in human form not to forsake each other. The Jesus whose birth we anticipate and celebrate grows into a man who makes it clear that our own salvation depends on the simplest acts of love for each other: drink for the thirsty, food for the hungry, shelter and comfort for those homeless or imprisoned.

Long ago a prophet sang, rejoicing in her child’s birth, given some sight of what her willingness had wrought. Mary, in her song at Jesus’s birth, had a sureness about where the world would be going, in the hands of her child.

I know I’m getting ahead of the story. But we need to hear her words, ponder them in our hearts, and give serious thought to what life might look like in a civilization of love. Because that is where we’re going. Eventually. Even though our decisions today are stretching out the road, creating greater and greater distance between us and the love that does justice.

Nonetheless, Mary’s song will eventually be our anthem. God (is) willing.

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for God has looked with favour on the lowliness of God’s servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God’s name.

God’s mercy is for those who fear God
from generation to generation.
God has shown strength with God’s arm;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
God has helped God’s servant Israel,
in remembrance of God’s mercy,
according to the promise God made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to God’s descendants for ever.’

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