Susquehanna Morning

Susquehanna Morning

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent 3 Thursday: Privilege and Oppression

In these final days of Advent we begin with the "O antiphons," ancient prayers invoking many mystical titles given to Jesus Christ. 

O Sapientia! O Wisdom!
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
Our scripture passage this evening is from the gospel of Luke 1:5-13, read in the New Revised Standard Version.

5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years. 8 Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.

"Zechariah and the Angel" by William Blake

You can click here for Lectio Divina instructions, and then return for the meditation and the prayer.


I'm struck by the existence of privilege and oppression side by side in this family.

First, it is a family of priests, and at the time of the restored (second Temple), there was no higher honor in Israel. The priests could claim a lineage going back to Aaron, the brother of Moses, and they were responsible for the central action of worship: sacrifices offered to God at the altar.

This family has the distinction of having priestly lineage on both sides, with Zechariah tracing his back to a particular grandson of Aaron while Elizabeth traces hers to Aaron himself. (I confess, I don't know the significance. Does this mean that Elizabeth's claim is more august or Zechariah's? Couldn't tell you. I'll ask one of my rabbi friends and get back to you.)

And, of course, as the brief narrative tells us, their lineage may well come to a crashing halt, because Elizabeth is "barren."

It was always the woman's fault. The woman's womb was considered "ground" for the planting of the man's seed. If no children came from a union, the understanding was that it must be that the woman's "ground" was barren. It could never, possibly, in any way, be traced to the man.

Privilege and oppression, side by side.

An august lineage-- about to end-- and we know whose "fault" it is."

And an angel comes to bring what might be THE central tenet of the Good News: Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid of your aging bodies.... God is with you.

Do not be afraid of the stigma assigned to you by society....  God is with you.

Do not be afraid of the ongoing presence of Empire in all its forms.... God is with you.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

"Peace is Here" by Jars of Clay

God of the meek and the mighty, only your Wisdom can overcome the forces that cause us to fear. Be with us. Speak to us. Hold us in the dark places. Whisper your unaccountable wisdom: Peace is here. Amen.

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