Listen to teenagers
Wednesday 22nd December
"You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
mindful of your mercy –
The promise you made to our ancestors –
To Sarah and Abraham
And their descendants forever"
Luke 1: 53 – 55
My youngest son is 14. He knows a lot. He is clever and wise. When it comes to politics, he’s sussed it out. He knows the key to the best life possible is justice.
One of the best things we do together a few times a week is to take our Border Terrier out on a walk. And for an hour or so, in between dealing with dog fights and angry cyclists as they swerve yet again for our hairy mutt, he talks to me and shares with me what is important.
And it’s fairness, equality, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+, an end to sexism, climate justice. I think lock down reshaped his brain and helped him to discover if life is worth anything at all it has to count for everyone. And so, he preaches his message to me. ‘It must be this dad, why doesn’t everyone see it?’
Being and walking with him is like an encounter with the Kingdom of God. It’s challenging. It causes me to think. It gets me to revisit uncomfortable subjects in order to reassess my views. It gets me to appreciate 'difference'. It asks me to imagine what the best world really could look like. I love these walks. I feel so privileged as they cause me to wonder. And wondering about these kinds of things, as I’m learning, is a great way to encounter God.
And we have this woman (or girl really) to wonder about today. Probably the same age as my son. And just like my son, she with her teenage wisdom knows the secret to life. In fact, ‘the secret to life’ is literally inside her!
And she gives us a glimpse of this secret. She vocalises it. It’s called justice. A reshaped world into God’s ways. The upside-down kingdom. The last shall be the first kingdom. A world where the hungry are on top for a while and the rich aren’t dictating their opinions or world views. A world where the entitled give way. A place where those on the edges, the hidden, the isolated, the mentally tortured, the addicted, the abused are not just dealt with but given what they need. They become the answer. A radical, scary, beautiful, disturbing readjustment. That’s the secret right there. She’s expressing it, declaring it, releasing it.
And she knows how it will be born, this new world. She describes it as that age old idea of mercy. Mercy which simply means compassion and forgiveness. It means kindness and a second chance. The simple way of God. That idea of there is always a way forward. It doesn’t always have to be like this. Life can be reshaped even if it is completely misshapen.
I am so relieved about this. Mary, our wonderfully wise, creative and passionate teenager, sings it out. Rocks it out, even. She knows. She’s aware. She has the eternal answer. It’s in her and she declares it. Justice and mercy are the winners. Justice and mercy are what we can build our lives on. Justice and mercy change the world. Justice and mercy help us to imagine a very different world to one we encounter day by day. In fact, if we could be bothered, justice and mercy help us to build a very different world. And Mary gave this justice and mercy a name. Jesus.
So, all I can say is listen to teenagers. Walk the dog with them. Listen to their songs. They know the deepest and best secrets.
Richard Cornfield is a Pioneer Priest at Mustard Seed Edinburgh. His life was changed a few years back when he started (along with his wife, Jenny, and a great team) something called Soul Food – a fantastic, free, home cooked meal. All of a sudden, his church became full of people who weren’t normally there. Knowing them, hearing their stories, engaging with them has led to a deeper appreciation of the Good News and a passion for the values of the kingdom of God to be the thing.