Reading: John 1:1-18
As we conclude our Christmas Liturgy, what does the coming year hold for us, in this rapidly and radically changing world? I am facing the challenge of completing a History of my studies of Earth from Space, a technology that has radically changed our understanding of the world - delivering many inconvenient truths about our human impacts. Now to write an introduction which explains why such a history is important, in the hope people might read it.
After the Gospel writers had written their histories of Jesus, they faced an even bigger challenge to explain in their introductions how and why Jesus of Nazareth was a unique revelation, relevant to the challenges of their times, and in the context of this sermon to our present time.
The earliest Gospel of Mark introduces Jesus at his baptism, to announce Jesus` radically different program for solving the problems of the world. The next two Gospels of Matthew and Luke use narratives of Jesus` birth rich in myth to emphasise the deep political and theological significance of Jesus` life and teachings. John uses a philosophical approach declaring Jesus to be the light of the world. Light being the first act of creation before even the sun and moon came into existence.
All these Gospel introductions were written under the overbearing shadow of the Roman Empire, for from Greece, Rome had inherited the belief that world history would involve five great kingdoms and the fifth Kingdom of Rome would be the climactic kingdom of the world. Kingdoms here were not territorial space or ethnic identity, but refer to how the wealth and power was distributed among the people. The Jews had lived under all five Kingdoms and knew well the suffering caused by the unequal distribution of wealth and power.
With the divine titles of: Son of God, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator and Saviour of the World, Caesar Augustus at the time of Jesus` birth, ruled this fifth and climactic kingdom. This Kingdom as vastly different from what the Jews expected. Therefore, they transferred these titles to Jesus himself. Our Basis of Union affirms that we are a people on a journey to Jesus` and not Rome`s vision of the climactic kingdom of the world.
The fundamental difference between these two Kingdoms was not about the end but about the means. For Rome, peace would come through the domination of the rich. Not too dissimilar from our present capitalist system dominated by multi-national Corporations that has resulted in the top 1% commanding more wealth than the bottom 99% of the world`s population. This domination, maintained through continual wars, social conflict, and a rapidly degrading earth.
According to Jesus` Gospel, everlasting peace would only come when the riches of this Earth were fairly distributed and the Earth was allowed to regenerate from our impacts. Every sabbatical year, the Jews were reminded of these two fundamental principles when the land was to be left fallow, and all that it grew made freely available and at year`s end, all personal debts were forgiven and slaves freed. In this economic system, both their natural and social worlds were refreshed and renewed.
Is not the purpose of this annual period of Advent and Christmas that concludes this Sunday - to help us vision this new world and an end of the present order? To ponder the earth`s transformation, not its devastation. Not some mass immigration from a doomed world to a blessed heaven as some would have us believe. It is to vision an end to this era of violence, injustice, mass consumerism and environmental destruction.
How much our understanding of the Christian faith has changed through the last two centuries. The good Victorian Christian saw nothing contradictory in taking their place in church, giving liberally to missionary work while sweating their workmen into an early grave. The fallen women must be punished and banished from society even their own flesh and blood must be turned away without mercy. Years back Elizabethans saw it as their Christian duty to burn at the stake anybody who did not believe as they believed. They considered that by taking their life they were saving their soul. The same today with LGBT people, asylum seekers escaping climate change some seek to save their souls by banishing them to a hell on Earth or back from where they had escaped.
They had failed to fully understand God`s justice and mercy - for God is Love (1 John 4:8). As humankind continues to grow in knowledge both spiritually and mentally, many of the ideas that now prevail, and are held by many will be shown to be as false. But in each age there will be the Prophets who grasp it - many of these at the present time are young, female and secular.
This is a challenge since throughout history, God has been revealed to us in the measure that our current mental and spiritual state can grasp. Our ideas of Christian faith are different from that of our forebears and will continue to change with each generation, particularly now that Science itself is part of the continuing revelation of God. For from science comes our understanding of Ecology as distinct from the Economy - both coming from the Greek Oikos for our home.
So what must change in the third decade on the 21st Century?
First the dominance of Economy over the Ecology must be reversed. The Economy is a recent human creation while the Ecology has evolved over 3.8 billion years to sustain all life by a process of continual Regeneration. But for this regeneration to continue we must adapt to live within the Planetary Boundaries of the Earth. The young sibling of Ecology is the Economy of wealth creation and distribution. Establishing these rules was a major concern of the bible from the beginning, revealing the two principles of Distributive and Regenerative Justice and plentiful warnings that: the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. . . eager for money, many have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10).
We measure our total wealth by the Gross Domestic Product - the market value of goods and services produced. It ignores the non-monetary value of ecological services and the shared economy, particularly of women in raising children, caring for homes, the elderly, the disabled, their neighbourhoods and church communities. So the GDP with all these deficiencies is our leading indicator of economic health, dominating the financial news and over which elections are fought. Given the GDP`s role in our social and ecological crises, how can this single, narrow metric of GDP still command such devotion - that we sit back and let our nation dry up and go up in flames to protect the multi-national industries that cause it?
To anyone thinking like an ornithologist, the answer would be obvious: GDP is the cuckoo in the economic nest. Cuckoos are wily birds. Rather than raise their own offspring, they surreptitiously lay their eggs in the unguarded nests of other birds. The unsuspecting foster parents dutifully incubate the interloper`s egg along with their own. But the cuckoo hatches early, kicks the other eggs and young out of the nest, then emits rapid calls to mimic a nest full of hungry offspring. This takeover tactic works: the foster parents busily feed their oversize tenant as it grows absurdly large, bulging out of the nest it occupied. It`s a powerful warning to other birds: leave your nest unattended and it may well get hijacked - until of course the everything catches fire and it gets burnt to ashes.
It`s a warning to economics, and us - lose sight of Jesus` Light and something else will slip into its place. And this is exactly what has happened. In the 20th century, economics lost its desire to articulate its goals: in their absence, the economic nest got highjacked by the cuckoo goal of never ending GDP growth based on cheap fossil fuels. It is high time for the cuckoo to fly the nest so that economics can reconnect with the purpose that it should be serving. Jesus` light directs humankind to return to the biblical principles of Distributive and Regenerative Justice. It is for this task that the Church was born. That is to evict the cuckoo of GDP growth and replace it with a clear goal for the third decade of the 21st century, one that ensures prosperity and jobs for all within the means of our planet.
This is not pie in the sky. It is the foundation of the Green New Deal proposed by the USA Democratic Party for the 2020 Presidential Election and underpinned by a New Doughnut Economics.
According to OT Scholar Walter Brueggemann the Church has three urgent Prophetic tasks:
- To tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion
- Grieve in a society that practises denial, and
- Express hope in a society that lives in despair.
In name of Jesus of Nazareth our guide and light in this prophetic task. AMEN.
MJ Borg and JD Crossan, 2007, The First Christmas: What the Gospels really teach us about Jesus`s Birth.
Joan Chittister, 2006, Ten Commandments: Laws of the Heart
Rev. John Yeo, 1960, Letter to a young University Student: On Reading the Bible for the first time.
Kate Raworth, 2017, Dough Nut Economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st Century Economist.
Stephen J Paterson, 2018, The Forgotten Creed: Christianity`s Original Struggle against Bigotry, Slavery, and Sexism.
Naomi Oreskes, 2019, Why Trust Science? Princeton University Press.
Walter Breuggeman, 2014, Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks, Eerdmans.