Advent: Fasting for the Reign of God
There is an awesome moment in the opening chapter of the book of Luke where the writer frames his gospel as an epic celestial battle taking place in the heavenly realm: This is the story of the reign of men vs. the reign of God.
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Luke makes it clear. What happened in these pages began in the days of King Herod of Judea (Luke 1:5). King Herod was a product and protector of empire. His father was appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar. He subsequently appointed Herod military prefect of Galilee. After the death of Julius, Antony, and Octavian, Augustus Caesar favored Herod and gave him the name "king of the Jews," eventually becoming governor of Judea.
Herod was most concerned with maintaining his power — at all costs. He built the Roman Empire at his own people's expense. He built great monuments and structures, including the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple, enslaving his own people to do it. He used the Jews' labor to erect temples to pagan deities, and, paranoid of anyone who might usurp his power, Herod schemed against his own family, executing three of his own sons for insurrection — one only a few days before his death.
Enter a priest named Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth.
In direct contrast to the lineage of Empire, Zechariah and Elizabeth come from a long lineage of both kings and priests. Zechariah is from the lineage of Abijah, which means "my father is Yahweh" in Hebrew. There were several Abijah's in the Hebrew scriptures, but the one most likely to be Zechariah's descendant is Abijah (also pronounced Abijam) who reigned as the "King of Judah" for three years (911-908 B.C.). Abijah was the great grandson of King David.
Elizabeth was of the lineage of Aaron, Moses' brother, who became a high priest over the nascent nation of Israel after the Exodus. He was called "the anointed priest."
Zechariah and Elizabeth were old in age and couldn't have children. We first see Zechariah in the Temple. Chosen by lot, Zechariah goes into the sanctuary of the Lord to light incense and is met by an angel who tells him his old and barren wife is going to have a child — a child born into the lineage of the ones called "my father is Yahweh" and "anointed priest."
Cut to the region of Galilee, where Herod got his start. In a small town called Nazareth, Elizabeth's relative, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her that though she is a virgin, she is going to bare a child.
"He will be great," says Gabriel, "and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David." (Luke 1:32)
Gabriel told Mary she would not be alone, her relative, Elizabeth is also with child.
Mary sets out to visit Elizabeth immediately. When they meet and share the news, Mary breaks into song, and tells us that God's mercy is for those who fear him, not for licentious rulers like King Herod. God has scattered the proud, says Mary, perhaps a reference to the recent executions within the Herodian household.
The people of Israel were desperately poor and suffering the indignities that conquered and occupied peoples do. Mary somehow looks into this darkness and sees the light of hope that is to come. She is pregnant. She is waiting. She is birthing, in her very womb, the hope of her people — the promise of freedom from the oppressive forces of Empire — freedom from the reign of men.
Then John the Baptist is born.
Then Jesus is born.
Enter the reign of God!
Luke chapter one sets up Jesus' first sermon after fasting in the wilderness — that in-between place, that pregnant place.
In Luke 4:16, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue. He opens it and finds the place where it reads: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor." Then he rolled up the scroll and said, "What I just read, just happened in your hearing!" In other words, "It's on!"
There, in the first four chapters, Luke frames his gospel as a cosmic battle between the reign of men and the reign of God!
Advent is the time when we wait in the darkness, wait in the days of oppression, wait in the times of broken-heartedness, wait in the age of antebellum — the days before the light, the days of faith, the days of perseverance — before the fight. Knowing one day God is gonna show up and say, "It's on!"
In this Advent season, I believe we are at just such a moment in our history as a nation. These are dark days. We are persevering under the reign of men: men who would shut down the government just because they can; men who by their own colleagues' measures have waged war on the poor; men who are determined to diminish the dominion of black, Latino, Asian, and Native American people, as well as women — all in a desperate attempt to maintain race-and gender-based power. We are persevering under a reign of men where "yes does not mean yes" and "no does not mean no," so immigration reform has been strung along with a series of "maybes" for far, far, far too long!
In this present darkness, as a spiritual act of worship this Advent season, I joined #Fast4Families: A Call for Immigration Reform last Tuesday. For the first two days I fasted from food and drink completely (except water). I've since augmented my fast to include broth and juice. I will continue through Advent season as long as I can, until my body says no more.
Please join me. Fast with me. Fast one day, one week, or the whole Advent season for immigration reform! Fast for God to push back the reign of men and usher in the kind of reign that walks in the Jesus way — the way of love.
Click here to register your fast today.
Lisa Sharon Harper is the director of mobilizing at Sojourners.
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