Monday, December 21, 2009

Some thoughts on Advent IV - The Magnificat

What is your favorite Christmas Carol?

On the 4th Sunday of Advent we focus on Mary. Mary was a young peasant girl, living in a small village, but yet she is chosen by God to be the mother of God’ son, Jesus. She was taking a great risk, but yet she responds with openness to God: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your will.” Shortly after this event with the angel (in the church we call this the Annunciation) Mary goes to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant with John the Baptist (this is called the Visitation). When Mary arrives Elizabeth is overcome with joy and welcomes Mary with humility. Mary responds to all of these truly extraordinary events by singing a song. My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…. This song is called, in Latin, the Magnificat and is perhaps the greatest Christmas Carol ever. For in this song is an outline, or (to use a term from Borg and Crossan’s wonderful little book “The First Christmas”) an overture to the Gospel and life of Jesus. God’s “agenda” is laid out in this song. If you are wondering exactly what is a Messiah all about and what is the Messiah suppose to do – check out the Magnificat. One other thing the verb tense of the song is unusual. The song looks towards the future and the birth of the Messiah – but at the same time all the verbs are in a version of past tense. The point of this: what God is up to with the birth of Jesus and the coming of the Messiah is nothing different than what God has been up to all along. God hasn’t changed God's strategy and is still using the same playbook. God takes what is of no consequence in the world, what is despised, avoided, disrespected and transforms it into God’s holy dwelling place. The Messiah, God’s son, is born of a peasant girl from a little village; and those in power who use their power to oppress or take from others, who use their power to take advantage or abuse others, well, they will be cast down; those who cheat and steal to acquire wealth and then use their riches to amass possessions which they hoard while others starve and suffer, well, they will find themselves with nothing.

For His mercy is for those who fear Him in every generation (fear here means awe and wonder); he has shown the strength of His arm; He has scattered the proud; brought down the powerful; lifted the lowly; filled the hungry; sent the rich away empty… according the promise made to our ancestors.

The Magnificat is truly the best Christmas carol ever as it lays out for us who God is and what God is about. God is about people and God is for people. The Kingdom which Jesus preaches is a Kingdom where God’s creation – people - will have what they need and will live in peace and joy. God’s son, Jesus reaches out to all people and goes about the job of building the Kingdom of God – through weakness, poverty and ultimately death. The Kingdom of God it turns out is not about fear - it is not about rewards, or even getting what you deserve; it is about God’s showering upon all the unmerited gifts of love and grace; it is about building community; and it is about hope and love.

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