12/23/2018 10:34:50 AM
December 23 - In the strength of the Lord
Micah prophesies of an anointed leader who will come. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
It’s a familiar expression, but what is the strength of the Lord? The Old Testament has a lot to say about what the strength of the Lord is and what it is not. Israel’s first king, Saul, is a good example of what the strength of the Lord is not—especially later in his reign. The strength of the Lord is not self-serving. It is not for the benefit of one’s popularity or ego. Kings, prophets, priests, and landowners who lived in the strength of the Lord did not enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. They did not enslave the peasants for their own glory and power. This is why Solomon is not blessed as being faithful as his father King David was. Solomon enslaved large numbers of people on a rotating basis and built the shrines of other gods who blessed the status quo of political greed in Palestine. I quote I Kings “So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not completely follow the Lord as his father David had done.” Keep in mind that David committed adultery and tried to cover it up by intentionally having one of his most loyal military leaders killed in battle. He let his power go to his head, but. . .BUT when confronted, he confessed and returned to humility, loyalty, and faithfulness. He paid dearly for his sin, but he was judged righteous and good in the “sight of the Lord” because of his humility. Solomon and almost all the other Kings and wealthy land owners talked a nice talk and prayed nice prayers but they worshipped power and their own comfort rather than serving the Lord who hears the cry of the poor and the enslaved and comes to their rescue. They were not serving in the strength of the Lord but in the glory of their own strength. They were not people of peace. They were not driven by lovingkindness.
Micah longs for another good leader like David who will serve all the people not with greed but with love, for the good of the people—for peace.
Notice in the magnificat which we read today as a psalm, that Mary focuses on humility. Surprisingly, Mary does not celebrate those who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The poor and weary are lifted up by God, not themselves; and the arrogant are humiliated by God, not by the poor. The Almighty does great things. The Lord’s greatness is proclaimed. God is savior.
See how this sets us free from being our own saviors? Saving ourselves and the world around us? That is tiring. But to wait for the strength of the Lord, that is life-giving.
So Mary’s blessedness is a gift from God. Her faith is God’s doing. Her part is to offer herself to God. The rest is up to God. Mary has learned that love flows to those who give themselves with abandon to God. The source of our love determines the strength of our love.
In Hebrews we are reminded that Jesus came and offered himself to do God’s will. He found perfect freedom in dedicating himself, giving himself over to the strong mercy of God. We don’t always get everything right (understatement there!), but we can offer ourselves and our love and our service in the strength of the Lord.
In the Gospel reading, Elizabeth says to Mary and of Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” In other words, Mary believed the word of the Lord. She believes by offering herself as a vessel for God’s peace. And that is exactly what then happened. She was a vessel.
The invitation is ours also. We can offer ourselves and all we do, moment by moment, to God. We can offer our meagerness, our failures, our weak faith, and our lostness to God. And the strength of the Lord shines in our weakness and humility, like with Mary. We naturally try to avoid weakness, cover it up, be strong. The strength of the Lord comes to those, like Mary, like Joseph, who instead offer it all up to God. Who receive the gifts of God with openness and gratitude.
Thanks be to God.