When to Pull the Gospel Card

playing-cards46And 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.” (Luke 1: 46-55)

The Magnificat…Mary’s Song of freedom and mercy.  We all know the passage.  Most of us probably have sort of a love-fear relationship with it.  Each Advent we read this passage with perhaps a little reticence.  We love the words and the promises that they bring.  But, deep down, we’re probably a little afraid of on which side of the fence we might be standing.  These lovely, merciful words have been threatening the ways of the world since their very beginning.  E. Stanley Jones called the Magnificat “the most revolutionary document in the world.”  It is God’s Revolution, God’s Manifesto for the new creation.  It is said that the Russian czars were positively terrified of these words and the changes that they could incite.

The words are poetic and thoughtful.  But when you read them, it is clear that God exalts the poor, feeds the poor, helps the poor, and remembers the poor.  God brings the poor together just as God tears down and separates the mighty and the wealthy and the powerful.  Sadly, God sends the rich, those who do not see their need for God, away.  The Divine was not birthed by a princess or a queen.  God came through a young, terrified servant girl that would be raised up to be blessed by the world.  God’s vision is an upside-down version of what we have let our world become.

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 these words, Matthew 22: 37-39, and Matthew 28:20b and have a pretty good idea of what Jesus was trying to say.  But there are those that will pull their “Gospel card” out of their pocket when it is convenient to prove their point.  There are those will draw it when they need to be comforted.  But, here, here we are asked to pull the Gospel card that will shake the world and send us to our knees.  Here, we are asked to pull the Gospel card so that the world will begin to see things differently.  It is revolutionary.  It would be hard to over-sentimentalize these words, hard to make them into something that they are not, hard to see that they are not talking about us.  I don’t think Jesus meant “oh, eventually” or “when you get around to it” or “yeah, “they” need to get on board”.  We are asked here to lay our riches and down and walk away from them.  We are asked to feed the poor and house the homeless.  We are asked to let go of power that we have gotten by human means that we hold onto so desperately for our own protection and our own edification.  Yes, we are asked to pull the Gospel card in our homes, in our lives, in our politics, in our nation, in our world.  Truth be told, these words have one meaning:  “Game on…”

Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.  (Susan B. Anthony)

FOR TODAY:  Which card will you play?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Re-Ordering

upsidedownworld“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1: 47-55)

 

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. 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.  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 shopping.

 

See, this is God’s vision for the world. It is not a world where the best and the brightest and the richest 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 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.

 

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? What are you willing to change in your life to come just a little bit closer to what God envisions? How willing are you to turn your world upside down? What do you plan to do with this precious life you’ve been given?

 

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, again, what are you willing to change in your own life? What are you willing to trade for love? Christmas is six days away. Six days…that’s all that’s needed to create a new order.

 

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)

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli