Christmas Re-Imagined:
Jesus - Messiah and Liberator

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Second Sunday After Epiphany • January 14, 2018
Recommended Readings: Luke 4:14-22

          The words Messiah and Christ in English correspond to the words Mashiach in Hebrew and Kristos in Greek – the primary languages of the Bible. The scriptures variously refer to Jesus as both Messiah and Christ. Both of these words mean “anointed one” – meaning Jesus was anointed by God. Even for folks who have trouble believing that Jesus was the actual expression of God in the flesh, most can accept Jesus was a very holy man and anointed by the Spirit of the divine in some way. For us, Jesus was and is the anointed one. But anointed for what?

          The lesson Courtney read from Luke tells us that Jesus claimed the passage from Isaiah 61:1-2 as capturing his own mission. Let me read the relevant sentences again:

“The spirit of our God is upon me: because the Most High has anointed me
to bring Good news to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty
to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release
to those in prison, to proclaim the year of our God’s favor.” [1]

          Now, we don’t know whether this incident actually occurred, but the author of the Gospel of Luke sure wanted us to know that he believed Jesus was the Messiah and that this was how Jesus understood himself and how his followers ought to understand him. Jesus was anointed by God to heal, to offer freedom to captives and prisoners, to bring good news to the oppressed, and to proclaim God’s favor. Jesus was messiah, the anointed one, but he was also liberator – offering us liberation from physical, mental, spiritual, and social constrictions – freeing us for love, justice, and courage.

          Jesus has been referred to most often in traditional Christian theology as “savior” – one who saves humanity. I prefer the designation “liberator.” I don’t mean that Jesus does all of the liberating work for us or that we have to wait for a second coming for anything to really change in the world. Jesus did not show up with an army of heavenly angels to liberate the oppressed, free the prisoners, and overturn the imperial power of Rome. As I said last Sunday in our worship focused on “God’s Response to Violence,” that is not the way God works or the way Jesus works. God works through inspiration, guidance, compassion, forgiveness, persuasion, and love. That is precisely how Jesus carried out his own ministry of liberation – by reaching, preaching, teaching, and inspiring others to follow his example.

          Jesus was a powerful liberating force in so many situations and so many ways. He was constantly raising up and affirming the dignity and worthy of those who were denigrated or oppressed – of folks considered “less than”: women, persons with leprosy and other diseases or deformities, people of other religions (Samaritans), strangers, and aliens. Think of his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. First, to the Jews, she was a despised outsider from an alien religion. Second, according to social norms, he shouldn’t have been speaking to a woman alone at all. Third, she had been married several times and was currently co-habitating with a man with whom she was not married. In spite of all this, Jesus convinced her to become his ambassador – and her witness brought many others to come and see him for themselves and to follow.  

          Friends, we need the liberation that Jesus offers, don’t we? There is so much we need to be liberated from! A lot of it is personal – additions to substances, behaviors, or things like money, power, privilege, and prejudice. But so many of us also need liberation from things like poverty, hunger, poor housing, poor educational opportunities, unequal pay, lack of decent jobs, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.

          We the times in which we are living often do not strike us as a season of liberation or even a time of much hope. Instead, every day we are bombarded with gross examples of bigotry, hatred for immigrants, affirmations of not the best, but worst in us, coming from the highest levels of government. In this context, Jesus is our liberator, but Jesus won’t just step in and fix all of this. He doesn’t work that way. Yet, Jesus is absolutely and powerfully with us in our personal and our social struggles. Jesus inspires our hope, our struggles for liberation, and our commitment to sacrifice our time, give our money, and offer even our bodies on the line for love and justice.

          Moreover, Jesus is not the only one anointed by God. We remember the powerful witness of Martin Luther King Jr. King was anointed by God to struggle for liberation for the poor and oppressed in this country – especially African Americans. This weekend especially, we remember and celebrate his courage and commitment. God also anointed Ravi Ragbir, the leader of the New Sanctuary Movement in New York City, who was detained on Thursday morning by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency when he showed up for his scheduled check-in. This was an attack not just an an individual, but on the very existence of the movement for immigrant right. Ravi was anointed by God to advocate for undocumented immigrants who often are afraid to speak out for themselves. Ravi is now suffering persecution and injustice because of his courageous advocacy. He is anointed and he strives to be a liberator. He is an inspiration to all of us.

          But it’s not just movement leaders who God anoints. We are all anointed and called to accept that anointing and live into it. That is what Jesus inspires to do – to live into our anointing. To be anointed and to accept and live into that anointing means that we seek the kin-dom of God and we commit ourselves to take a stand wherever and whenever we are able against any attitude, action, or system that stands in the way of realizing God’s kin-dom. Perhaps you feel anointed to provide care for those who live with HIV or struggle with an illness or addiction, or you feel anointed to feed the hungry as we do for hundreds of people every week here at the Church of the Village. Or, perhaps you are feeling anointed this morning, as I am, to take up the banner that Ravi Ragbir can no longer carry, at least for the moment.

          We are sometimes anointed for a particular expression of kin-dom seeking, but more often it is just circumstantial – we express our anointing in whatever circumstances we happen to find ourselves – and in the best ways we can define or imagine. Ravi Ragbir is an example of this. I don’t think Ravi began with a deep desire to be an activist and advocate for immigrants. He made his way to the U.S., got a green card, he worked and paid his taxes, and then got caught up in the unjust and broken immigration system that jailed him for six years and threatened to deport him. His circumstances propelled him to be an advocate. And, Jesus the anointed one, Jesus the liberator, walking beside Ravi, inspired him for this work, inspired him to live into his anointing. Martin Luther King Jr. did not set out to be a civil rights leader. He wanted to teach philosophy. After that, he just wanted to be a good local church pastor when he was called by the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. But then, local activist, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat and sit at the back of the bus and, when King was chosen by his fellow clergy and other activists to be the spokesman for the Montgomery Improvement Association, he did not decline. And Jesus, the liberator, was with him every step of the way and inspired him to embrace his anointing.

          Beloved, we are the body of Christ – we are the body of the anointed one. We are the hands and feet and voice of Jesus the liberator. We are the ones anointed by the Spirit of Jesus himself. We are the ones sent into the world to bring good news to the poor, release to the prisoners, healing to broken bodies, broken hearts, and broken spirits. We are the ones called to love and compassion and justice. We are the ones who Jesus needs to invite and inspire others to follow him. Friends, embrace your anointing!  For The Spirit of God is upon you: because the God has anointed you to bring Good news. Let the Spirit of Jesus the liberator live in you.

Prayer:

Jesus,

Anointed One,
Hear our prayer:

We are prisoners
Caught like caged birds.
We are claustrophobic and anxiety ridden
In our cage
Sometimes, we are stuck and selfish
In our cage
We hit the bars of our own limitations
In our cage
Sometimes we are held captive by oppressive systems
Dreams and hope begin to elude our spirits
We are broken in here.

Anointed One,
Open the doors of our personal and social cages
And Liberate us once and for all.
And, as we peak over the edge of the vastness of our freedom,
Heal our broken wings and
Direct our flight into the wilds of goodness,
the joys of justice and
Into the infinity of love
So that we can help to open the caged doors of others. [2]

Amen.

 

[1] Luke 4:18-19 (NRSV)

[2] Prayer by Emily Kitchens