Incarnation v. Empire

Happy New Year!

I must admit that Sunday feels like a lot longer ago than 5 days. (Or is it 6 days ago? Depends on how you count it I suppose.) And Christmas Day really feels like a lot more than a week ago, even though we are still in the midst of the (in)famous 12 Days of Christmas. Certainly the culture has moved on: The local radio station that plays all Christmas music all the time beginning November 1st is back to regular programming. In my car I enjoy the Christmas-centric XM stations “Holly” and “Holiday Favorites,” but both of those are on to other programming as well. In stores, Christmas is already replaced by Valentine’s Day candy and decorations. Yet, here I am sharing our heavy-on-the-Christmas-music worship experience from Sunday. So if you aren’t quite ready to give up on the Christmas spirit, I am here for you.

The previous four years we made the Sunday between Christmas and New Year into a hymn sing. With in-person worship still suspended we had to improvise this year. We made use of Christmas songs we hadn’t yet sung this year as well as a couple suggestions from the 2019 version of this service. Plus, our terrifically talented music director, Reid Spears, created a musical mash-up perfectly suited for this service. It was so inspired and inspiring, it became the theme for the whole service. What the heck am I talking about? It is all explained in the video.

Texts offering inspiration this week:
Mary and Joseph dedicating Jesus at the Temple from Luke 2.
Richard Rohr’s daily newsletter from Dec. 20
Ava Duvernay interview of Angela Davis in Vanity Fair
The “Batman very Superman” thing is curtesy of This Here Podcast living in my brain.
And of course, Elf.

The Roman Empire, like all Empires, including our current USAmerican Empire demands payment, demands obedience, demands fealty. Fail to do so and the very real threat of violence looms large over you. Of course they call it something else. In Jesus’ time it was the Pax Romana — the Peace of Rome. A peace built on slavery and extreme violence. In our day, here and now, we call it Law and Order but it isn’t that different: it is an Empire built on the extreme violence of slavery and the ongoing violence of White supremacy.

I hope you enjoy listening and singing as much as I enjoyed offering this service. Wait. “Enjoy” is a weird word choice there. I guess what I mean is I hope you find it a combination of edifying, encouraging, and enraging. If so, then I believe I’ve done my job. That’s my goal anyway. Let me know if I succeed in that. Sermon time — which includes the aforementioned special “Incarnation v. Empire” song — begins at 45:34. No audio-only option this week.

In both cases the Empire says, “Do as we say and no one gets hurt.” Unless of course you happen to be one of those on whom the violence is trained. After all, we can’t have just anyone walking through the neighborhood with a package of Skittles. Not just anyone can sleep in their own beds or stand on their own porches. We can’t allow just anyone to go for a jog through the neighborhood. Not just anybody and everybody is allowed to breath.
Presidents and their family are allowed to grift the nation to the tune of Half a Billion Dollars, but don’t you dare try to make a couple bucks selling a cigarette or a CD without proper paperwork. No, no. Some must be hunted down and killed for such offenses.
From the very beginning, God’s incarnation in Jesus violates Empire. And Incarnation continues to violate Empire. 

Sermon time begins at 45:34

If it isn’t obvious, my examples of the violence of Empire are Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Alton Sterling, and Stephon Clark.

Let’s keep praying like Anna. Let’s keep hoping like Simeon. Let’s keep following faithfully like Mary and Joseph. Let’s keep working like Angela and Dr. King and Fannie Lou Hamer and John Lewis and Cori Bush and Bryan Stevenson, Stacey Abrams, Pastor Danita, and so many others. 
And along the way, as we are doing all of that praying and hoping and working, let us not forget the power of music, the joy of song, which strengthens our resolve and renews our spirits. Let us always sing like Buddy.

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