On Sunday morning at First Presbyterian Church of Glen Ellyn we continued in our Christmas sermon series entitled; Grace Revealed; A Big Picture Look at the Storyline of the Bible. We studied together another thread that runs right through the Bible from beginning to end, the theme of Justice.
In one of the passages of scripture we read in the sermon (which you can listen to here), God tells His people that the sort of religious observations he is most interested in are not their festivals, feasts or fasts, but their observing what it means to “do justice” to those who are poor and oppressed.
Now this is where we have to be very careful, because when the Bible talks about “Justice” the word means something quite different from what it has come to mean in our Western Judicial context. For us, justice is mostly about fair play and individual rights. If someone or some institution takes something from me, violates something I am entitled to, or treats me unfairly, we call it “unjust” and seek to reassert our rights.
But in the Biblical context, “Justice” is not about personal liberty at all. The Biblical notion of justice revolves around the harmonious interdependence of humans and God in relation to one another. Another word for this concept is the Hebrew word “Shalom” which points to a webbing together of God and humans and all creation in right relationship, aligned with God’s vision and intention for the cosmos.
What God is telling his people when he lets them know that he prioritizes the doing of justice over the singing of songs, observance of religious festivals and the practicing of sacred rituals, is that our treatment of the poor, naked, and oppressed reflects the true condition of our hearts in relationship to him. He is letting us know that it is impossible to love him and not love the poor.
In the event of Christmas, Jesus comes to us as a poor child. When God came to earth as a human being in Jesus Christ, he was born in a feed trough. When his parents took him for circumcision, his parents’ offering to the temple was 2 pigeons; that was the offering made by the poorest of the poor. Jesus was essentially homeless during his earthly life. He rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, he ate his last meal in a borrowed room, and he was buried in a borrowed tomb. God became poor in Christmas.
This is part of the reason why Jesus says, “Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.” He entered into the very poverty and oppression, nakedness and injustice that destroy Shalom.
When we gather this Christmas to celebrate in song, worship, prayer and festival, let’s make sure we have first attended to God’s greater concern; our working to establish Shalom in this world he loves so much.
Grateful to be doing justice alongside you,