Isaiah 35 : 1 – 10  Luke 1 : 47 – 55  Psalm 146

The Southern African custom has it that the host will ask you towards the end of a dinner, "Uena ka Khotso? – Are you at peace?"  You don”t have to struggle to find a word to express your spiritual well-being; she simply wants to know, "Have you had enough to eat?"  They believe that when you are physically well, you will be spiritually happy, also when you are happy in your soul, your body will be well.  When people are well in body and soul, there will be peace between people.  The word "Khotso" expresses all those conditions that create the ideal state.  The Hebrew word for peace "Shalom" also has the same meaning as "Khotso". 

Mary expressed the same idea of peace and justice in today”s Gospel.  She was told by the angel that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and her child was going to inherit the throne of David – the Messiah the whole nation was waiting for.  Her son will bring justice in the world.  In fact, it would be a new world that he would bring.  Peace that Mary”s child would bring would be based on justice and love, not on force.    It was an incredible message.  But in the end she believed the angel and said, if a lowly girl like her could be mother of a son of the most high, the hungry and poor would be exalted, and the rich and powerful could be humiliated. 
Is this some kind of outrageous fantasy of a poor, uneducated pregnant teenager?   Maybe she was a little demented, overwhelmed by the burden of the situation she was in.  Think of the predicament she was in.  She must have been just a teenager, perhaps sixteen at most; unmarried.  She was engaged to be married to Joseph.  I am sure when people heard that Joseph”s fiancé was pregnant, people smiled and winked at him.  Joseph and Mary were the only ones who knew that Mary”s child was not his.  Should he tell anyone about this awful truth?  Mary said God made her pregnant by the Holy Spirit.  There”s a joke that says that one day God wanted to send the Holy Spirit down to earth again because there was a big mess among people.  The Holy Spirit refused because he was afraid that Joseph might still be looking for him.  You may think that such a joke is a sacrilege.  Indeed for the Jews, Mary”s claim was a sacrilege.  Mary was not only a loose woman who betrayed her future husband but also she was blasphemous for claiming that God was responsible for her pregnancy.  It was a serious offence!  The punishment could have been death by stoning, in either case.  How could Mary speak about a new world of justice and genuine peace when she herself is in such a mess?  Was she completely confused?

I believe that the secret lies in Joseph”s love.  The fact that Mary was not stoned to death indicates that Joseph had decided to accept Mary”s explanation and not to hand her over to the authorities.  How could Joseph ever believe Mary”s preposterous claim unless he loved her deeply.   He wanted to believe her so he did.  Mary must have been deeply touched by his capacity to love.   If a man could love someone so much, and was ready to accept such a seemingly impossible situation, anything would be possible.  It could even be possible that a child born of a lowly teenage girl could bring about the new world order of peace and justice.  Is this interpretation absolutely insane?  I don”t think so.

The problem of the world today is the lack of faith in the power of love.  Practical people believe that love is a silly sentiment, and is irrelevant in our vast and immensely complicated world.  The real world is competitive and cruel.  If you don”t beat them first, they will beat you.  Get real.  Ray Kroc, the founder of the world”s largest restaurant chain "Macdonald”s", once said, "This is rat eat rat, dog, eat dog.  I”ll kill ”em, and I”m going to kill ”em before they kill me."  But I say that precisely that is our biggest problem.  Many people have handed themselves over to the rules of competition and forgotten that the most life giving force in the universe is love.  They believe more in the strength of hatred than the power of love.   I met some of them in Africa.  They were self-proclaimed revolutionaries, who were completely committed to transforming the world into the better one.   Those revolutionaries believed that the forces of hatred could create a better world.     

If you are treated unjustly, you will be angry and unhappy.  You have no peace of mind.  If you don”t have inner peace, you will be always frustrated.  Then you are ready to resort to violence.   Then how come we still believe that peace can be achieved when one overpowers others by force?  This idea has never worked because it ignores the importance of peace of mind based on justice.  This is why no empire has ever achieved enduring peace.  And whenever an empire falls, violence and blood-shed follow.  Many of the regional conflicts today are rooted in the histories of empires.  It shows no sign that the peace enforced by those empires has had any lasting effect.  Hatred that has been festering while being ruled by force demands a settling of scores.  Look at Northern Ireland.  Look at Bosnia and Kosovo.  Neighbours fiercely hate each other, simply because they belong to different religions and ethnic groups because of the histories of the empires that came and went.  Has the British victory at the Plains of Abraham produced an enduring peace in Canada?   It didn”t.  So we still live with the never ending threat of separation of Quebec.

When will we ever learn?  Haven”t we learnt that there can never be enduring peace unless there is justice?  Haven”t we ever learned that there can never be justice unless there is love?  Where there is no love, hatred rules and there will be no peace of mind.  Where there is no love, there is greed and self-centredness.  And greed and self-centredness are the causes of injustice.  A vicious circle goes around and around.  Maybe Mary was crazy.  Maybe Joseph was naive.  Maybe they were both unreal.  If so, maybe we should all be a little crazy, naive and unreal, and start believing in the power of love.  One day last month, I was walking on a street of Toronto with Alan Tysic.  Alan is a United Church minister who works with street people, alcoholics, ex-cons, drug addicts, prostitutes, and the like, in Victoria, B.C.  We ran into a few panhandlers.  Alan shook hands with each one of them saying things like, "Hi!  How”er you doing?", and gave them quarters.  I said, "Alan!  Are you crazy?  They will buy booze or drugs or worse.  You aren”t helping them."  Alan said, "I know.  Probably they will buy booze.  But if someday even one of them remembers that someone treated them like a normal human being, my quarter is not wasted."  I learned something that day.  If you can love one person, you will be able to learn to love the whole world.  If everybody learned to love another person, the world will be like the one Mary dreamed about.

We are going to celebrate the birthday of the one who declared the arrival of the new regime – the rule of love, who was also called the Prince of Peace.  Let us wait actively for the coming of peace – real peace based on justice and love, with excitement, joy, and determination, not just in this season of Advent but also in our daily life at all times.  Our waiting may seem hopeless, just as Mary”s Magnificat sounded crazy.  But the dream of one unmarried teenage mother-to-be came true with the birth of Christ 2000 years ago.  It is possible.

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