I spent the summer of 1999 as a volunteer in the poor urban areas of Los Angeles. I was born and raised in small town, Wisconsin, so that summer brought many new things before my eyes. I saw people living in cardboard boxes, parents digging in dumpsters for food, and children without safe passage to school. There were many things that overwhelmed me with despair. But there were also things that filled me with hope and joy. One that I still think about often is homeless karaoke. A small church in Skid Row decided to host a karaoke night for its homeless neighbors. A couple who attended had the equipment, and wondered if it could be used. Being a poor church, they couldn’t do much but brew a pot of cheap coffee, set up the equipment, and pray that God would do something with it.
They had no idea.
Hundreds of people show up on a regular basis. The night I was there, the hosts could not make it through the list of singers before close. This has made a huge impact on the Skid Row community. In fact, an award-winning short film was made about it.
Why? What about karaoke brings so many people to this church?
Because at karaoke, the homeless are treated as real people. The joy of singing, dancing, and fellowship takes the weight of their situation off their shoulders for a little while. And as they stand on the stage, they are seen as individuals with something to offer. For a little while, instead of being overlooked and ignored, they are clapped for.
They know their lives are valued.
In Solomon’s Psalm about the future Messiah, he describes a King with wide dominion. His rule will span from sea to sea, and kings from far and wide will come to pay tribute to Him. The Psalm goes on to describe the reason the Messiah deserves such honor.
All kings will bow down to him; all nations will serve him. For he will rescue the needy when they cry out for help, and the oppressed who have no defender. He will take pity on the poor and needy; the lives of the needy he will save. From harm and violence he will defend them; he will value their lives. - Psalm 72:11-14 (NET translation)
The Messiah King deserves his throne because He uses his power to rescue the needy and defend the oppressed. The Messiah does not overlook the poor. He treats them as if their lives are worth something.
Jesus is this Messiah King. He demonstrates it from the time He is born.
When angels announce Jesus’ birth- the most important event in human history to that point- they do not announce it to kings. They announce it to poor and lowly shepherds. The message of the Messiah’s arrival is entrusted to those the rest of society would have seen as unworthy for the task.
When Jesus is traveling and preaching, He values everyone He comes in contact with. He dines with those others reject. He heals and touches those others avoid. And when John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus, asking if He really was the Messiah after all, Jesus answers with
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” –Luke 7:22
When Jesus’ identity as the Messiah is questioned, He confirms it by confirming His role as one who helps and heals the poor and needy.
And now, at Advent, we can look forward to not only Jesus' first coming, but His second. For when the Messiah comes again, He will establish a perfect kingdom- a kingdom in which all needs are met and all lives are valued.
Our Messiah rescues the needy, defends the oppressed, and recognizes the worth of every human being.