Because of the way that Advent falls, there is not an entire week to write about the theme of peace. Actually, there is only one day. Tomorrow, we celebrate Christmas Eve and we welcome the Christ child. I had the privilege of teaching in worship today and I thought that I would offer a bit of my teaching as my writing for today. I love Advent. It seemed fitting that I would spend much of the preceding weeks preparing a teaching about my favorite week, the week we talk about Mary. I hope this writing brings you a moment of stillness before the bustle of Christmas Day.
May our passionate loud chants and our small silent prayers be revolutionary voices of peace, like Mary, in our world today…
Today is about the gifts of some amazing women. And THIS year, because our Gospel text is from Luke Chapter 1, we get to hear from Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the section of Luke immediately preceding today’s Gospel reading, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she and her aging cousin Elizabeth are both pregnant. Rather than rejecting this news out of sheer fright and a very real concern over the social implications of a sudden, unwed, teenage pregnancy, Mary response to angel in verse by saying:
38 “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
continuing in verse 39…
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Mary, no doubt knows what can happen to an unwed girl who begins to show signs of pregnancy, so she travels to see Elizabeth, who is miraculously pregnant herself. Upon Elizabeth’s greeting of Mary, the child in her womb – aka John the Baptist – leaps in recognition. That’s all the confirmation Mary needed. She sees clearly a most remarkable thing: God is about to change the course of all human history. It is in this recognition, this confirmation, that Mary is moved by this vision of God, the lover of the lowly, that she breaks out in song—a song that has come to be known as the Magnificat.
46 And Mary said,“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
If you were to comb through commentaries on this passage, almost every single one, describes this passage as “revolutionary.” One goes so far as to call it, “the most revolutionary document in the world.” Another says the Magnificat “announces powerful revolutionary principles.”
In the Magnificat, God totally changes the values of life – it is a song announcing revolution. This isn’t just a song praising God for the way God has brought up this singled-out girl from obscurity. This is a song about how God will use her and the child she is bearing to right the wrongs of all humankind.
The Magnificat is a song proclaiming God’s justice, This is a song proclaiming God putting things right-side up after they’ve been upside down for so long. Mary’s song makes it clear to us: a world in which there is hunger and food banks and cities with vast wealth on one street and grinding poverty on the next – that the world we live in – is not the world of God’s kingdom. This is a song about bringing down systems of injustice, about breaking chains of generational oppression, a song about what this coming child is actually bringing into the world with him.
Mary, the poor, unwed, pregnant teenager, a member of an oppressed race, the one with whom God found favor, sings about the justice of God’s in-breaking kingdom in spite of everything she sees around her, in spite of everything she knows to be true about the unjust world in which she lives.
Mary sings…and her song is more than praise and “thank you.” Her song is a call to recognize the coming kingdom of God. Her song is a call to name the injustices of the world in which we live and expose them to the light of Christ and the coming of his kingdom.
To experience Advent is to trust that God can do this thing, again. God can again be born in me, in you, in this broken mess of a gorgeous world, again and again and again.