This morning as I drove across Los Angeles from the east side to work and school on the west, I saw something that made my heart break. Underneath the Silverlake exit overpass were two street sweeping vehicles along with a smattering of police cars. They were there to “clean out” the homeless encampments. As we drove by my empathy and post-election tender heart just about exploded. How can we treat people like animals, devalue other humans and not see them as equals in need of all the things we need? All people, even those who are bent on harm or seem so different from ourselves need care and love and dignity, especially those who are marginalized and vulnerable in the communities in which we find ourselves. Our care for the marginalized is often highlighted during the holiday season. As a culture, we become more attuned to stories that highlight those who are most vulnerable in our communities and contexts. In reflecting on this, I wonder if this focus has to do with the narratives that surround the stories told at this time? Whether it’s the sustaining of supplies in the Maccabee’s narrative which Hanukkah celebrates, or the Turkish Saint Nicholas who left presents of dowries for young women so that they would not be sold into prostitution or even the genealogy of Christ that is filled with women and men who live on the margins of society and who is the son of poor and marginalized refugees who have to hide out in a hostile foreign land, one that once held their relatives in slavery and captivity, to escape their government and king’s persecution and execution of small children.
Mary, the final woman in Christ’s genealogy, and his mother is one of two marginalized characters featured in this week’s Advent lectionary text. The text’s focus is Mary’s unexpected pregnancy and the struggle it offered to Joseph. Both Mary and Joseph are marginalized people. They are poor and part of an ethnic/religious culture that is seen as the center of all their government’s problems and scapegoat for all the mounting tensions perceived and actual (sound familiar?). So, like all marginalized people, they are trying to find a means to survive and maybe find a pocket of joy. Mary then becomes pregnant and her marginality grows. Joseph, while filled with various emotions, seeks to offer her what care and dignity he can by not highlighting Mary’s “moral failure” of pregnancy. He will quietly leave her to an uncertain future. And this is where the angel steps in and we are supposed to rejoice. And we do. But we are supposed to listen and see as well. Much like the tale of the Good Samaritan, we often place ourselves as the Joseph character instead of the Mary, and in doing so fail to hear the empathetic call of Mary.
These sacred stories that are so familiar to many of us may have lost their power to impact us viscerally and remind us of the histories of abusive powers and those who were at risk. They speak to the need for care and love of those who are marginalized today. For in their company and from their low space comes the one who transforms, who breaks forth and brings a transformational new way of being and seeing. From the margins comes an apocalypse (a disclosure of knowledge or revelation) that will completely transform the way we engage with the world. What the Biblical text speaks so loudly but is rarely heard is the deep seeded truth that from the least of these comes the blessings. When those who are orphaned, widowed, or "other" in your context are cared for, God is in your midst. Though the arch of the universe bends towards justice, we must be the hands and feet of that bending justice.
- Jessi Knippel