Jesus Says “Keep Your Chin Up”
Happy New Year!
That’s right, today is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the new liturgical year, and Jesus starts us off with a bang. We’re going to have to find the Good News within these texts, because honestly on the surface they seem like bad news.
“People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken,” Jesus says. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Goodness. That’s dramatic. And pretty scary.
Apocalypse always seems like bad news to those of us who have power and wealth.
But remember, apocalypse, the total upending of the universe’s order, seems like Good News to the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed.
For them, God coming in and blowing up everything and starting over with justice and mercy sounds brilliant.
Apocalypse is only bad news to those of us who think we have something to lose.
But there’s one verse that jumped out at me that definitely is Good News, even for those of us who are at the top of the pyramid and can’t always identify with Jesus’ audience. And that verse is this: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Stand up and raise your heads.
Or as your mom might have said to you when you were a kid, “Hold your head up and your shoulders back, you weren’t born under a rock.”
Or, when she saw you were feeling down, “Keep your chin up.”
This is an interesting instruction from Jesus, one of the only ones I know of in the gospels where he gives us a commandment for our physical posture.
“Stand up and raise your heads.” I think that’s important.
What does that posture communicate?
How does moving our bodies in that particular way accomplish what Jesus wants for our hearts and spirits?
Standing up and raising your head is a posture of dignity, and it is a posture of hope.
It is a stance of solid, grounded self-worth, and looking toward the future, toward the horizon, toward the good things we know are coming toward us.
And that is exactly the stance we need in Advent, a time of great upheaval, a time of repentance, and a time of deep potential.
In our Baptismal Covenant, we promise “to respect the dignity of every human being.” There are few more succinct summaries of how we are to live out the gospel in the world than that.
All over the world, in places devastated by poverty, war, natural disaster, and political oppression, human beings find their dignity trampled upon.
They are faceless numbers in a machine.
In our own society, the scourges of racism, sexism, and homophobia threaten the dignity of so many people, and rob the perpetrators of these sins of the dignity of living out of their true, God-given moral character.
Advent is a good time to talk about dignity, because it is a time when our scriptures remind us of a lot of people whose dignity was threatened.
First and foremost was the Blessed Virgin Mary herself.
Mary of Nazareth found herself in a very precarious position after the Annunciation.
Remember, she didn’t go to stay with her cousin Elizabeth just for kicks and some girl time.
She had to get out of town. She was pregnant but not married.
Gossip would be the least of her problems. If things got out of hand, she could be killed, stoned to death, for what the town no doubt saw as her grievous transgression.
Nobody cared about the dignity of a young girl who made a mistake and blamed it on an angel.
And Elizabeth’s dignity had been nonexistent in her neighborhood for years.
She carried the greatest shame a woman in her society could bear: infertility.
The scarlet letter of “barren woman” had robbed her of value and personhood in her society for years.
Hannah, Samuel’s mother who prefigures Mary in the Hebrew Scriptures, was accused by Eli of being drunk in the temple when she was merely praying, pouring out the heart of her grief to God.
Hagar is the fourth woman we’re studying in our 9 a.m. class during Advent, the enslaved woman impregnated by Abraham and then cast out into the wildnerness to die.
But Hagar the powerless, the despised, the rejected, used, tainted, and cast aside, has something none of the insider women in the Hebrew Scriptures have.
An angel of the Lord comes to her and gives her words that will be given to only one other woman in salvation history: “Now you shall conceive and bear a son.”
Before the three angels foretell Isaac to Sarah and Abraham, Hagar receives the promise first.
As Mary says, God has lifted up the lowly, and as Mary does, Hagar ponders these things in her heart.
These are the women of Advent who show us the meaning of dignity.
Jesus says: “Stand up and raise your head.” They did exactly that, against all odds.
By doing so, they remind us that we are all beloved children of God, worthy of holding up our heads and looking toward the promise.
And as beloved children of God and called disciples of Jesus Christ, we have work to do.
We have a promise to fulfill—not just to respect the dignity of every human being as individuals, but to work to build a community that nurtures and sustains that dignity, working to reform and even overturn systems of injustice that threaten it.
After all, the Magnificat, the central text of Advent, is a call to overthrow systems of injustice.
Our beautiful song of praise is also a call to revolution.
And we all come to revolution in our own ways. It can be very simple and small.
While Jesus talks about the coming apocalypse in stark and even intimidating terms, here at St. Francis In-The-Fields we’re doing our own small part to change the world in a lot of different ways.
And one of those ways is by using a new hymnal. During the season of Advent, Robert is introducing us to Voices Found.
As you know if you read his excellent article in the newsletter, Voices Found is a worship resource in which every hymn, lyric, or tune was written by a woman.
And the words and music we choose to praise God are important.
Lifting up these “voices found” proclaims not just their long-hidden gifts to the communion of saints, but speaks the truth of the community we long to be right here in this congregation.
And that is a community that for ourselves and with our neighbors, stands up and holds up our heads as Jesus commands us.
In the season of Advent, even as confusion and chaos swirl around us just like in our scriptures, we prepare for a Savior who came to speak for all time and eternity the sacred worth of every human soul.
There are a lot of people out there who do not know that they matter.
There are some people in here who do not know they matter.
Some days, I’m one of them, and I’ll bet you are too from time to time.
But we take our call from Jesus and our cue from the brave women of Advent, who were not afraid to claim and live out their dignity before God and the world.
“Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near,” Jesus says.
“Keep your chin up,” your mom might have said.
The message remains the same.
Hope is the horizon.
Lift up your head so you can see it coming.
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