Who invited Amos to the Christmas party??  

Each Advent Season, I am reminded about the stark contrast between the typical things we do to celebrate, and the Good News of God’s Kingdom for which Immanuel was sent to earth to usher in. Good News for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the lame, the weak and the invisible can be lost under laden tables and trees fully pregnant with mountains of gifts. Krista-Dawn Kimsey gives us a reflection to remind us that the Gospel includes the “daily needs” of the above. A longer version of this article was originally published as part of New Leaf Network’s Advent Reader Finding Advent Shalom: Waiting in Communities of Tension. ~ Shannon 

  Who invited Amos to the Christmas party??  

By Krista-Dawn Kimsey  

Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”— skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done. “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day. “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it (Amos 8:4-12). 

“If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.” That’s been my favorite bumper sticker, and I just found it on a t-shirt for sale this Christmas. There’s a lot in this world and in myself to be outraged about this year; anger has been a great fuel to get out there, right some wrongs and feel a little more self-righteous along the way. We could easily create a seasonal Advent version of the t-shirt: “If you aren’t in tension, you aren’t paying attention.” For most of my adult life, I have experienced unbearable tensions as the details of God’s incarnation story are juxtaposed with the white North American and church cultural celebrations of Advent and Christmas. 

Eleven years ago, my family and I moved to the Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood on the unceded and traditional lands of the Musqueam, the Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh nations, also known as Vancouver. We made that move after I realized that my heart was quite far from God’s heart of justice for those experiencing poverty, those in crisis without a back-up plan, the refugees, the displaced, the meek, the ones who can be found in the alcoves and overhangs because there’s no room for them inside. In various roles in my non-profit work, I’ve studied the book of Amos almost yearly–yet I continue to cringe at my own complicity in Amos’ indictment of economic systems of affluence, political systems of oppression, and religious legitimization of the whole handbasket. I imagine if Amos was alive today, he might buy my Advent shirt and we could be twinsies. It’s rough being a prophet, delivering searing words that will make someone’s eyes water faster than a December wind chill in Saskatchewan. Personally, I’d think twice before inviting Amos to my Christmas party. He’d ask about the labour practices of the company that made my tablecloth.  

Amos 8 includes an oft-repeated theme of God’s clear judgment on our propensity to separate our religious practices from our practices of daily life. Verse ten (“I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping”) is connected to God’s earlier statements: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them….Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24) God really doesn’t adopt the Canadian propensity to hedge our opinions in public on matters of injustice! 

The Israelites incorrectly interpreted prosperity and luxury as God’s favor and blessing. While they offered religious thanks to God according to the law, they did not connect their practice of worship to their practices of business and life. During the religious festivals and Sabbath days, the Israelites were throwing side glances at the clock and scheming how to make a little more profit. God’s laws were meant to maintain justice for all: legal impartiality, provision for gleaning, and extension of interest-free loans, plus the tenth commandment’s warning against coveting. But the Israelites were throwing in the husks of the wheat that they sold to the poor, in order to make more profit. They were enslaving people who could not pay unjust debts.  

We can extrapolate to our own situation. What if God cares as much about who made the clothes we are wearing this Christmas, and how those workers were compensated, as he does about what we do in a worship service? While cooking our Christmas pot roast, we don’t want to be thinking about the labour practices that spread COVID among meat-packing employees.  

It is sobering to think that God might reject our passionate chorus of “Joy to the World” and our sacrificial volunteer hours at church events, because of our unjust stewardship of the land on which our food was grown, or of how those labourers–whom we’ve never seen–were treated. How can we be joyful in the midst of Amos’ indictments? Whose idea was it to include this scripture in the lectionary right when Christians are kicking it into high gear to honour the birth of the Saviour with literal harps?  

In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul applauds and encourages generosity. Where could his exhortation to “freely scatter (our) gifts to the poor” be a litmus test for our motivations (2 Cor. 9:9)?  How could we go about doing justice this Advent season with a generous heart, rather than out of obligation, guilt or appeasement? What might we need to remember to enact mercy and justice from a confident assurance of God’s abundance for us all? How might grace invite more freedom for us this season?  

For me, answers to these questions change dramatically from year to year. However, each year I feel the tension between stretching to do something really, really uncomfortable, and accepting that I am a limited human being rather than a saviour of the world. Reading Amos was a catalyst for moving into the DTES all those years ago, to live alongside, listen to, and learn from those who suffer under the oppression of many forms of poverty.  

To engage further with others like Krista-Dawn, exploring how to listen and work alongside our marginalized neighbours in a non-charity posture, check out the 3-month Community Transformation Certificate program offered through Servant Partners, of which Krista-Dawn is an Executive Director. 

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