Advent 4B Psalter: Luke 1: 46-55
46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
We love this passage. It is Mary’s Song, the poetic rendering of her realization that she has truly been blessed, that she has been called to do what no one else has done, what no one else will do. She has been called to give birth to God in this world, to deliver the promise that her people have always known. But don’t get too lost in the poetry and the familiarity. American Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones called The Magnificat “the most revolutionary document in the world”. It is said that The Magnificat terrified the Russian Czars so much that they tried to dispel its reading. More recently, it was banned in Argentina when the mothers of the disappeared used it to call for non-violent resistance. In the 1980’s, the government of Guatemala banned its recitation. It is an out and out call to revolution. Less subversive language has started wars. Edward F. Marquart depicts it as God’s “magna carta”. It is the beginning of a new society, the preamble to a Constitution that most of us are not ready to embrace. We’d rather chalk it up to the poetry of an innocent young woman and keep getting ready for Christmas. But we can’t do that. It’s something much, much more.
See, this is God’s vision for the world. It is not a world where the best and the brightest and the richest and the most powerful come out on top. It is not a world that we can control. It is not a world where we can earn what we have and deserve who we are. It is rather a world where God’s presence and God’s blessings are poured onto all. But it comes with a price. Those who have, those who are, those whose lives are filled with plenty are called to change, to open their lives to God and to others. Because God will scatter the proud, those who think they have it figured out, those who are so sure of their rightness and their righteousness. In other words, those of us who think that we have it all nailed down will be shaken to our core. The powerful–those with money, those with status, those with some false sense of who they are above others–will be brought down from their high places. The poor and the disenfranchised, those who we think are not good enough or righteous enough, will be raised up. They will become the leaders, the powerful, the ones that we follow. The hungry will feel pangs no more and those who have everything–the hoarders, the affluent, those are the ones whose coffers will be emptied to feed and house the world.
God is about to turn the world upside-down. Look around you. This is not it; this is not what God had in mind. And God started it all not by choosing a religious leader or a political dynamo or even a charismatic young preacher but a girl, a poor underage girl from a third-world country with dark skin and dark eyes whose family was apparently so questionable that they are not even mentioned and whose marital status seemed to teeter on the edge of acceptable society. God picked the lowliest of the lowly to turn the world upside down.
But this is not some isolated poem in the middle of Mary’s story. These words are the Gospel. Let me say that again. These words ARE the Gospel. If you were to put the Gospel into its Cliff Notes version, I would think you could take the words of The Magnificat, Matthew 22: 37-39 (love God, love neighbor), and Matthew 28:20b (“I am with you always until the end of the age.”) and have a pretty good idea of what Jesus was trying to say—love God, love each other, know that I am there, and let my vision be your world.
There are those who will read this and dismiss it as some utopian socialist notion, something that flies in the face of our capitalistic society. I don’t think it’s either. God’s vision does not align with any form of government on this earth but is instead ordered with love and grace and abundant mercy. It is not a vision where everyone is treated the same; it is a vision where everyone is loved. So we are called to turn the world upside down, to be part of making a world where everyone is loved.
And when you’re turned upside down, things tend to spill. No longer can we hold onto what we know. No longer can we rest on the laurels of our past. If we’re going to be part of God’s vision of the world, we have to give up those things that are not part of it. We have to change, learn to live a new way, look upon the world and others not as competition, not as threats, but as the very vision of God pouring into the world. So, THIS Advent, what are you willing to let go of so that you will have room to offer a place for God? How willing are you to turn your world upside down? How are you being called to give birth to Christ in this world?
Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected by power, because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. (Thomas Merton)
God help us to change, To change ourselves and to change our world
To know the need of it. To deal with the pain of it
To feel the joy of it, To undertake the journey without undertaking the destination, The art of gentle revolution
Grace and Peace,