The world faces a revolution in communication. The revolution is within the church and outside of it. The cover story of this week's "TIME" magazine (16.12.96) is entitled, "Jesus Online". In time for Christmas, "TIME", as usual, prints a story about Jesus. In fact, it is more on "how the Internet is shaping our views of faith and religion."
The subject of greatest interest on the World Wide Web, is religion. Fundamentalist preachers and the Pope who opens this week the world's most ambitious web site, use the Internet. People all over the world are turning to religion creating a sense of community. TIME asks "Is it possible that this global network..could somehow bind us together in a way that technologies, especially TV, have failed to do? TV seems to have lured people away from their communities. Could it be that the Internet is starting to bring them back together? Can it create new communities of spiritual consensus not in real time, but in virtual space? Just as urbanisation brought people together to worship in cathedrals, so the electronic gathering of millions of the faithful could someday lead to online entities that might be thought of as cyberchurches?" (p76).
After all, the church won the world with a written gospel. It had the first printed Bibles that could be read by ordinary people. The church became the first users of radio. The church was one of the biggest users of television from the 1950's with Bishop Fulton Sheen, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts and others. Will the third millennium see a revolution in religion with faith being communicated and shaped by electronic interaction on personal computers?
Already, every sermon I preach, including hundreds of past sermons, is available to computer callers on the Internet from every corner of the globe. Wesley Mission has more spiritual messages in cyberspace than any Australian church. Is this part of an amazing revolution designed to change the world through God's Word.
Being committed to radical change in society is in the great Christmas tradition announced by Mary herself as she considered the revolutionary impact of her Christ-child. Her song of praise during her pregnancy is called The Magnificat, after the first word of the song in Latin. This song parallels the song of Hannah (1 Sam 2: 1-10). Mary, like many women, shared the feeling of Hannah when she dedicated her son, Samuel, to the Lord.
Luke 1 39 "At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth.41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" God was starting a revolution, and Mary knew it! God wanted to revolutionise the lives of people and communities in the most radical way. Mary outlined the changes faith in her Son would bring to both.
1. GOD REVOLUTIONISES OUR PERSONAL LIVES. 46 Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant". God was working within her. Mary was the first of millions who believed in Jesus Christ as God's Son, and found God was working a revolution within them.
That starry night in Bethlehem was to change people and the conditions of the world. Mary would have understood a statement made two thousand years later. In London's Highgate Cemetery on top of the grave of Karl Marx the father of Communism, is a bust of Marx, his eyes set deep and resolute. Chiselled in the granite is his dictum: "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it."
Mary knew that the baby growing within her was the One who would change the world. She said: 48 "From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me-- holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation." A revolution was commencing that would change the lives of those involved for the next two thousand years. Mary was the first, and ever since people have called her the "Blessed Virgin Mary". Galileo in 1609 produced a great revolution in astronomy with his telescope. Newton in 1666 produced a revolution in physics with his law of gravity. Marx in 1848 produced a revolution in politics with his "Communist Manifesto". Einstein in 1905 produced a revolution in science with his theory of relativity. Yet none of these compare with the revolution brought about by the birth of Mary's Christ child.
2. GOD REVOLUTIONISES OUR ATTITUDES. 51 "He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts." Mary foresaw the birth of her son would turn upside down the attitudes of people. God's personal revolution within leads to a new moral revolution without. Without the inner change any attempt at outer change is useless! God intends a revolution in our dealings with others. Humility was to count rather than pride. Love rather than force.
Christ's teaching on humility was revolutionary. People are proud and arrogant, for they think this is the only way to get on. The higher up they go the more they look down on others. But when Christ comes within a person this is changed. For pride in self and love for Christ can not dwell in one person. When we come face to face with Jesus Christ we are completely overshadowed and pride is shattered! Christ was humble Himself. He said "I am meek and lowly of heart." He said "I am among you as one who serves." This was revolutionary teaching: humility is greater than pride. He said to His disciples "If anyone would be first he must be last of all and servant of all ... whoever humbles Himself like this little child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven."
Christ's teaching on love was revolutionary. Jesus showed the way to treat those who hated you or tried to defeat you was to love them out of it, not meet them with all our force. He said: "I say to you "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."" Here was God's moral revolution: humility would be greater than pride, and love greater than might, and Mary foretold both.
3. GOD REVOLUTIONISES OUR SOCIAL STANDING. Mary told of a social revolution when God 52 "brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble." Dr. E. Stanley Jones said "The Magnificat is the most revolutionary document in the world" for it foretells a great social revolution. To some people this is going too far. How often do you hear someone say the Church should stick with religion and have nothing to do with politics, or economics? They might think like that - but God does not. God is concerned for spiritual life but also for the social and economic as well. The Prophets thundered against the evils that existed in their day. Amos preached against cruel economic policy, drunkenness, sexual immorality, low standard housing, and the rising cost of living that oppresses the poor.
Our world sadly needs God's will, and if we are to implement it, it will mean nothing less than a social revolution in the society. We need to clearly think through politics that throw people on the scrapheap of unemployment. We must think through racial prejudice. The ideal society that God would have, is identified with neither socialism nor capitalism nor with any one race. This is a great social revolution many Australians cannot accept.
The most moving moment for me last Friday night in "An Australian Christmas at Darling Harbour" was an Australian segment. We were conscious of the racial debate sparked by Pauline Hanson. We were determined to do what we could to counter the "PH Factor" in our national telecast. We would make a statement against racial prejudice without turning the Christmas story into political argument and debate.
It opened with the haunting music played by an aborigine on a didgeridoo walking down the long flight of stairs in the same way John the Baptist came blowing the shophar and proclaiming "Prepare ye the Way of the Lord." Then the aboriginal didgeridoo player Alan Dargin was joined by an Asian, Dr Frank Cheok playing a harmonica, with the choir joining in singing "I am an Australian". Slowly they were joined by people of a dozen races surrounding the manager of Bethlehem. There's a song in the air, and many haven't caught up with the social revolution of equality in this nation.
4. GOD REVOLUTIONISES OUR ECONOMIC PHILOSOPHIES. This Mary also saw. 53 "He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." In a secular society each is out to get what he can for himself. A Christian society is one where no-one dares to have too much while others have too little. God's economic revolution aims at creating a society where we all are our brothers keepers, where we share others burdens, where we give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, hospitality to strangers, companionship to the sick, comfort to the prisoners, and love to our neighbours. All these things can be done by each of us where we are.
God has started an economic revolution in this world, and much has already been achieved, but there is still much to do. It all depends upon people like ourselves allowing our lives to be open to the Spirit of God to radically change our attitudes to money and possessions and the needs of others. When a nation like ours catches Christian compassion then the impact is global and beneficial.
5. GOD REVOLUTIONISES OUR SPIRITUAL STANDING. Mary further said: 54 "He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." God remembers his people Israel to this day in spite of the way they rejected His Son. God also remembers the Christians, those spiritual descendants of Abraham. He still blesses us on our way. Under the influence of Christians who have believed these revolutionary things, many immoral practices of the community have been stopped: infanticide has ended, slavery is outlawed, hospitals, schools, missions, factory acts, pensions, sick benefits, - almost every improvement in the moral, social, and economical realm of the last 2000 years has come from the work of crusading Christians. This was the revolution that God brought into the world. This is the revolution we must continue. There is a loveliness in this Magnificat of Mary, but it has the power of dynamite!
The passage closes 56 "Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home." She was then delivered her Son. The Australian church needs to be recalled to its revolutionary charter. We need to be restless and rebellious against unemployment, poverty, homelessness, racism, sexism, immorality of every kind. God's will is for revolutionary changes among His people. Mary saw that her infant holy, would be the means of radical change for the better. We must be people of faith and obedience who trust Him for the insights and work with Him for the changes. Your commitment to Jesus as Saviour is a spiritual commitment that will be worked out in radical social, political and economic practises in everyday life.
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