A Provocation: Third Sunday of Advent: December 15, 2019: Luke 1:46-55

In Advent of 2016, I played with the scene from Matthew. You can find my Provocation at https://provokingthegospel.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/a-provocation-third-sunday-of-advent-matthew-112-11-december-11-2016/

This year, I find myself listening to the song that Mary sings in Luke. The portraits of Mary in Matthew and Luke differ. In Luke, she runs to Elizabeth, her auntie, after meeting with Gabriel. In Matthew, she runs for her life when Herod sends men to kill all the toddlers in Bethlehem. In both stories she is untimely pregnant, and therefore liable to face attempts at honor-killing. In Luke, she runs to stay with her auntie, knowing that no one would mess with her there. In Matthew, Joseph has decided to abandon her, which would leave her defenseless. Except for the messenger from God who pushes back against Joseph’s plan. In Matthew’s story, Mary joins a group of women (see the genealogy) who had been pushed out of what was rightfully theirs. In each case, they had to push their way back in. That is the through-line in Matthew’s story, and Mary fits right in.

In Luke, Mary shows similar strength. She shows real courage: she looks an angel in the eye, and the storyteller does not mention that she was the least bit afraid. To be sure, poor Gabriel tells her not to be afraid, but I think that’s just because mortals are SUPPOSED to be afraid at such a moment, but I see Mary scoffing and moving ahead. She asks strong questions. She considers her options (look at the strong verbs she is given, usually obscured by translators who paint her as timid and overwhelmed). And she decides to take on the task of giving birth to the one who will turn the world right side up.

Later in the chapter, in the presence of her auntie, she sings her reasons for taking on the risks of pregnancy:

46     And Mariam said: 
              It extols, 
                   my life does, 
              haShem.  
47          It rejoices, 
                   my breath does, 
              at Elohim my deliverer. 
48               Because Elohim looked on the humility of his female slave.  
                        For look, 
                             from now on they will call me godlike in happiness, 
                                  all generations, 
49                         because he has done to me great things, 
                                  the capable one has.
                                       Holy is his name.  
50                                   His mercy extends into birthings and birthings 
                                            of those reverencing him.  
51                         He made strength with his arm, 
                             he scattered those visibly superior 
                                  by the intentions of their wills/hearts.  
52                         He put down the capable from thrones 
                                  and exalted the humble ones.  
53                         Hungry ones he filled full of worthy things, 
                                  rich ones, out and away he sent them, empty. 
54                         He claimed Israel his child, 
                                  reminding himself of his deeds of mercy, 
55                              just as he spoke to our ancestors, 
                                       to Abraham 
                                       and to his descendants into the eon.  

The lectionary gives the option of using her song in place of the assigned psalm for the day.

The heart of her reasoning is revealed in a nice little chiastic structure beginning in verse 52:

52                         He put down the capable from thrones 
                                  and exalted the humble ones.  
53                         Hungry ones he filled full of worthy things, 
                                  rich ones, out and away he sent them, empty.

At the outside edges of this structure, we find the rich and powerful, the people who are used to being at the center of everything. At the center of Mary’s expectation for the work of the messiah we find people who are humbled and hungry. This reversal is carried further in the song itself: those who hold power because of political position or the padding provided by wealth will lose their privilege. Those who have been used as slaves or forced to become refugees, those whose bellies are empty, these will be revealed as the heart of God’s care for Creation. It will be revealed that God looks at the world differently than we do.

You know as well as I do that this revelation is unsettling. Offensive, even. We have grown accustomed to our privilege and our position, and we have no intention of surrendering them. It will not do to forget that.

It also will not do to imagine that our desperate hold on privilege changes God’s plans for turning Creation right-side-up.

Advent is a season for re-thinking. Perhaps we need to re-think how we hear the word, “gospel.” The good news is for all the Creation, not just for individual souls. It’s not good news unless it results in freedom and wholeness for all of Creation. Perhaps we need to re-think how we hear the word, “Creation.” We are part of it, after all, beloved like all of Creation.

If we imagine that the “good news” is that nothing changes (for us, anyway) and we maintain our position and privilege, then we have tied our hopes to keeping the world upside-down. But if we are part of all Creation, alike chosen and well-loved, then Mary’s unsettling song is also good news for us. But only if we can be re-created so that we can let loose of the world we are holding upside-down.

We need Advent this year, maybe more than ever.

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