A TV listing of President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration has caught people’s attention both in the UK and the US. The Sunday Herald TV critic Damian Love reimagined the ceremony as a return of the classic science fiction series The Twilight Zone.
I think we should start now preparing for the inevitable. And let us, when that moment comes, go into the situations that we confront with a great deal of dignity, sanity, and reasonableness. – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1956
If Martin Luther King Day has any meaning to us at all beyond a day off, it is usually reflected in a sense of inspiration drawn from a victorious struggle for justice. And so it should be, because Dr. King was a mighty warrior for justice, who shook America’s racist foundations by a martyrdom of agape – self-sacrificing love – and that is how we ought to remember him.
Racial tensions being what they are today, it is hard to remember that we once regarded the Civil Rights Movement as a heroic movement for equality. Americans today do not see themselves as equal. America is marked by bigotry, racism, and xenophobia. The beloved community that King imagined, a community where, in his words, “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” seems as far away now as it ever has.
Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in the Constitution and the institutions of American government, and he also believed in the essential goodwill of the American people. Today our government at almost every level has been taken over by lawless men who flout our Constitution, our ideals, our principles. Today we see America’s leaders cozy up to foreign enemies and denounce true American patriots. We see them countenance division and exclusion that are foreign to our founding documents, from which we draw our identity as a nation. Goodwill seems to be in short supply in America today.
America has never been perfect, but with two exceptions America’s leaders have always held the welfare of the nation above partisan dogma or personal ambition. The first exception was the Civil War. The second is now, where Republicans in Congress who once vehemently denounced Donald Trump stand in line to lick his boots. And just as in 1861 there were throngs who cheered the ringing of the bells of secession, so now there are at best misguided “patriots” cheering on the destruction of our Republic.
On this commemoration of Martin Luther King’s birthday, I am saddened to suggest that the inspiration we need to draw from his life and the Civil Rights Movement is not a celebration of the triumph of justice but a commitment to continue the struggle for justice no matter the cost. That is the real moral of King’s life, and it is a lesson that all true patriots will need to learn and heed in the days and weeks ahead if we are to survive as a free people. What are you willing to suffer for justice?
 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Address to Mia Mass Meeting at Day Street Baptist Church” (Speech, Day Street Baptist Church, Montgomery, Al., April 25, 1956), accessed January 15, 2017, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/address-mia-mass-meeting-day-street-baptist-church.
 Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream” (Speech, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963), accessed January 15, 2017, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm.
“[R]ight now the state has an economy and many communities that are succeeding while embracing attitudes that are elsewhere being derided as foolish and unnecessary, like prioritizing the needs of the poorest and the least; believing in and striving for solidarity among all people; incorporating respect for our planet in social decision-making; and proceeding from a posture of hope and possibility rather than fear.”
In the parliamentary system of government, the party out of power is often called “the alternative government.” Rather than simply opposing ruling party proposals, the opposition is there to offer their own policies and vision for the country. The Democrats in the 115th Congress will certainly propose policies different from both their Republican counterparts and the Trump administration.
This is how the dictators came to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Good people remained silent or acquiesced. People expressed hope that something good would come of it. Mussolini would wring the laziness out of Italy and make the trains run on time.
The rise of Donald Trump to the presumptive Republican standard bearer for president in 2016 is an indictment of, and a profound danger to the American republic. The Founding Fathers were afraid of the excitability of the voters and their vulnerability to the appeal of demagogues.
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 NABRE
This passage is normally associated with Advent. Advent, if you are not familiar, is a time of waiting. The prophet can declare about the coming of Christ, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Is. 9:1 NABRE) All of creation had been waiting, waiting, since that disobedience that broke the love bond between God and his creatures and doomed humans to death. Waiting for the release that God promised to the wayward couple: that a savior was coming. A savior to make all things new. Advent recalls that time of waiting in darkness. And toward the end of Advent our attention is drawn to the evangelist Luke’s telling of the events that would lead to the blessed event of the coming of the light.
First, the birth of John, who would be called the Baptist, who Jesus tells us is Elijah returning to prepare the way. (Mal. 4:5-6) Then an angel appears to a maiden named Mary: a girl, probably a young teenager, who professes to be a virgin, and tells her that she is to give birth to the son of God, the son of the most High, the Holy One of Israel. Mary is stunned, but she offers herself completely to what she doesn’t understand.
This is a very familiar story. Most of us know it from early childhood. And because of this, I think, we have become under-awed at what is being portrayed. Because we are sure we comprehend the story, we stop mining it for its riches. It becomes rote, expected. I began to consider the passage more deeply when I committed to praying the Rosary daily. The Rosary is a devotion centered on Mary in which one recites a number of prayers, including the Hail Mary, a specific number of times while meditating on biblical or traditional events. The name of the prayer and its opening phrase come from this passage in Luke, “Hail Mary full of grace….” And, one of the themes of meditation in the Rosary cycle is the scene depicted in this passage: the Annunciation. In meditating on this passage and this event I came to realize that what the angel announces to Mary is also announced to me: that I am to give birth to the Christ.
I caution us here not to place too much emphasis on gender. Mary was a young woman who by her admission had not had relations with a man. The significance is not that having such relations would have defiled her, but that her virginity marked the pregnancy and birth as something that could only have been accomplished by God. Likewise, the Greek word that is normally translated “handmaid” is δούλη (doule) the feminine construction of δοῦλος (doulos), meaning slave. Mary acknowledged her complete surrender to God, and it was recorded using the feminine construction because she was a female. But the same word is used by men (like Paul in Ro. 1.1: Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, “Paulos doulos Christou Iesou”, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” The broader meaning here is that Mary is a slave (or servant) of God who is incapable of performing her appointed task without divine intervention. And so are we all.
I’m going to focus on two questions. How can we each give birth to the Christ? And what does it mean to give birth to the Christ?
It is a large question to ask what is the Christ? We could spend months surveying different aspects of what scholars refer to as Christology. We can think of Christ in terms of what he is: True God and True Man, One in being with the Father, a person of the Trinity. We could go on and on but I’m not sure it would lead us anywhere we want to go. For our purposes here we might say that Christ is God made Man to pay the price for the disobedience of our ancestors so that we can once again enjoy intimacy with God.
How does a human being give birth to such a thing? As I was translating from the Greek I was struck by how fantastic and improbable it all seems. Imagine yourself as a little girl suddenly in the presence of an angel of God (a presence that fosters terror in other biblical accounts). He is telling her unbelievable, crazy things: favor with God, the Holy Spirit, the birth of the son of the Most High, a kingdom that will last forever. Who can believe it? But when you sort it all out you come to answer the question how can you give birth to such a thing? You can’t. If it is to be done, it must all be done by God. Mary’s part was to surrender and accept. “May it be done to me according to your word.” Thy will, not mine, be done.
We can also think of Christ in terms of what he does. He fulfills the prophecies surrounding the biblical theme of the Day of the Lord, the salvation of all nations, the final judgment, and the end times. He occupies at once the three traditional positions of authority in tribal Israel: Priest, Prophet, and King. As priest he mediates through the sacrifice of himself the relationship between God and his creatures. As Prophet he speaks the words of God with the authority of God. His teachings reframe the Mosaic Law around God’s intent for the Law: to create a holy people. As King he fulfills the prophecy of one of the House of David who is to rule Israel forever. I think the most essential characteristic of the Christ is that he gives himself completely for others with no expectation of reciprocation. He does not love mankind because of who men are but in spite of it. And his supreme act of obedience is the complete emptying of himself in love for the salvation of the world. In his self-giving sacrifice on the cross he demonstrates both God’s essential character as one who pours out love indiscriminately, lavishly, and the intended character of the people of God, the character that was broken by disobedience. Because in reality they are the same. Humans were created in the image of God and that means one should be able to see God’s image in his people. That is the meaning of the Christ event: Emmanuel, God with us.
When Mary conceded to allow the Holy Spirit work in her so that she could bring forth Christ to the world, she probably had only vague notions about what the “Holy One” was to be. She certainly could not have thought that she had the ability on her own to nurture a child who had such high expectations. In the same way, when the Spirit works in us and plants the seed of faith, all that is required from us is humble assent. “May it be done to me according to your word.” Like Mary, we are spectacularly unfit for the task of bearing the Christ, and yet that is the way God has chosen to work in the world.
This past year our weakness and stubbornness, our rebellious nature, and our evil, destructive tendencies have been abundantly evident. Many are pondering the advent of a new time of darkness.
Sir Edward Grey was the British Foreign Minister from 1905 to 1916. Grey recalled in his book Twenty-five Years that on the eve of World War I, in the midst of the crisis that would propel the world to unspeakable horror war, he was in his office visiting with a friend:
A friend came to see me on one of the evenings of the last week — he thinks it was on Monday, August 3rd. We were standing at a window of my room in the Foreign Office. It was getting dusk, and the lamps were being lit in the space below… My friend recalls that I remarked on this with the words, “The lamps are going out all over Europe: we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”
To many it feels like the lamps are going out all over the world. But Christmas reminds us that the light of the world is always with us. And this passage from the Christmas story reminds us that we are called to make that light visible. May we always strive to allow Christ to shine brightly in the world through our own sacrificial acts of love. Merry Christmas.
He’s quite concerned about insulting inanimate objects, but he has no problem with bombing children.
The obstacles include the precedent that the Constitution does not allow the government to expatriate Americans against their will, through a landmark 1967 case, Afroyim v. Rusk. They also include a 1989 decision, Texas v. Johnson, in which the court struck down criminal laws banning flag burning, ruling that the act was a form of political expression protected by the First Amendment.