Text: Luke 1:26-38 (the birth of Jesus foretold) — Context: a service focusing on reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations
What would you say is the most pressing issue facing Canada’s First Nations? Someone like me who often has his head in the clouds might answer by suggesting things like climate change or the threat of nuclear war.
These answers are ridiculous, of course, although that doesn’t stop abstract thoughts like that from flitting through my mind. I succumb to such abstractions because placing a community into a broad context can remind us that everyone on this beautiful blue planet shares similar blessings and woes.
Every human being alive today, regardless of nationality, social status, or economic circumstance, lives under the shadow of threats like climate change and weapons of mass destruction. And every human being alive today is blessed by global developments in knowledge and culture.
Both in what we fear and in what we love, there is much that unites us in this awesome, conflicted, and diverse world.
But when focusing on a particular family or community, it is usually not helpful to lead with global concerns.
A family might be focused on caring for new children. A community of faith might be focused on maintaining its outreach projects and responding to the spiritual needs of members who are mourning. And people of Canada’s First Nations might be focused on self-government and social and economic development.
We wish every family, church, and community the best in their efforts to tackle their most pressing issues. An injury to one is an injury to all. Likewise the healing of one helps the healing of all.
For these reasons, every Canadian, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, has an interest in the health of Canada’s First Nations. But focusing on Canada’s First Nations can take us much further than this. Working for justice for Canada’s First peoples can also help us grapple with a central part of Canada’s reality, that it is a product of European colonialism.
The European imperial project that saw countries like Spain, France, and England conquer the rest of the world between 1492 and 1914 changed everything. It united humanity through the world market, it drastically increased social productivity, and it saw humanity’s ability to understand and manipulate physical reality soar.
There is no going back to pre-colonial times when people of different continents didn’t know of each other. But at the same time, the dynamism of this unequal world, which is simultaneously united and horribly divided, is behind many of the threats we face and many of the blessings in which we revel.
The post-colonial world is based on never-ending growth. Since the era of colonialism began 500 years ago, human population has risen from 500 million to nearly eight billion. Scientific knowledge and technological expertise have mushroomed; and the physical environment has been transformed.
So, when we pursue peace with justice today, I think it is useful to imagine radically different ways of running the economy and of governing the world.
Today’s Gospel reading is about impossibilities and dreams for a better future. Like last week’s reading, it is about a miraculous pregnancy, this time for Mary, who becomes the mother of Jesus.
Many of us approach this as a poetic story that paints the power of Sacred Love to inspire and transform individuals like Mary, communities like the Jewish people of ancient Palestine, and those of us who walk a path of death and resurrection as revealed in the stories of Jesus as the Christ.
In the context of our hopes for peace with justice in a post-colonial world, it might remind us that our preparations for Christmas include our radical dreams.
Building a world in which Indigenous rights are fully realized, in which environmental destruction has been halted, and in which weapons of mass destruction are a distant memory might seem impossible. But then we remember our sacred stories of a saviour who is conceived in a miracle, who comes to earth as helpless infant, and who is executed as a scorned rebel.
As people formed by this tradition, we minister where we are — perhaps tending to our spiritual health; working to make this congregation as vigorous, welcoming, and exciting a place as it can be; and to alleviating poverty in our neighbourhood.
We also pray that our efforts to heal some of the wounds of ourselves and our neighbourhood open pathways to the global peace that is only way to ensure a common future.
Because the revival of Indigenous Canada and the struggle for Indigenous rights gets to the heart of the origins of the modern world, it has power to inspire our imaginations, to free our thinking, and to motivate our actions to find radically new ways of living.
The spiritual, political, and cultural revival of Canada’s First peoples of the last decades fills me with wonder and hope. Not only do these revivals heal some of the wounds of crimes like Indian Residential Schools, they create space for everyone to heal from their wounds.
The key victims of colonialism are the people who were colonized. But those of us who are descendants of settlers are also twisted and harmed in lesser ways. So, when an oppressed community achieves a measure of liberation, the rest of the community can breathe more deeply and regain more of its health as well.
This Advent, as we strengthen our intentions to work for peace in our hearts and in the neighbourhood, may the courage of Mary 2,000 years ago and of Indigenous activists today help us imagine a world healed of the wounds of colonial violence and in which the limitless blessings of a united humanity are available to all people.
May it be so. Amen.