Every year during advent I make sure to spend some time reading and thinking about the magnificat (Mary’s song) found in Luke 1;
And Mary said,
“My soul exalts the Lord,
and my spirit has begun to rejoice in God my Savior,
because he has looked upon the humble state of his servant.
For from now on all generations will call me blessed,
because he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name;
from generation to generation he is merciful to those who fear him.
He has demonstrated power with his arm;
he has scattered those whose pride wells up from the sheer arrogance of their hearts.
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up those of lowly position;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy,
as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
I love this passage!
I love that Mary says her spirit has “begun to rejoice”!
I love the expectant joy that is here but not fully realized yet!
But most of all – I love the vision of “equality” contained here. This is an unfiltered joyous expression of the good news … but the good news may not sound quite as good to everyone.
Mary is expressing something, found throughout scriptures, that once you start hearing is something you cannot escape no matter where you look in the bible; God is on the side of the oppressed. He opposes the oppressor. He is among the poor. He came for the sick, not the healthy.
God is not an inactive being that treats everyone the same – he gives special attention to the “least of these” and actively opposes people in positions of wealth and power. These people who often get their wealth and power on the backs of others (most economists will tell you this is almost always true – I’ll leave a lot of this for another time, but enough to say our entire economy appears to be built to excess on the backs of others).
This proclamation by Mary is not an isolated claim. For example, let’s see how it compares to another woman who conceived an impossible child;
Hannah prayed, “My heart rejoices in the LORD; my horn is exalted high because of the LORD … No one is holy like the LORD! There is no one other than you! There is no rock like our God! … The bows of warriors are shattered, but those who stumble find their strength reinforced. Those who are well-fed hire themselves out to earn food, but the hungry no longer lack. Even the barren woman gives birth to seven, but the one with many children withers away … He lifts the weak from the dust; he raises the poor from the ash heap to seat them with princes and to bestow on them an honored position.
Or how about a little later in Luke when John the Baptist is preaching;
As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one shouting in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley will be raised up (filled), and every mountain and hill will be brought low, and the crooked will be made straight, and the rough ways will be made smooth, and all humanity will see the salvation of God.'” … So the crowds were asking him, “What then should we do?” John answered them, “The person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise.”
John announces that valleys will be raised up (filled in) while mountains will be brought low … so basically everything will be made equal. And he shows what this means practically by telling people to share what they have with others so that no one is in need or above another.
This is great news for those in need, but kind of sucks if you’ve amassed a lot of stuff. But that’s the gospel!
We could go on to talk about the beatitudes, where the blessed are those who are poor, those who are mourning, the meek (timid), who are parched in their quest for justice (righteousness), those who show mercy, those who have pure hearts, those who work for peace, and those who are persecuted, insulted, and lied about.
Not exactly the common type of person we aspire to be (with a couple exceptions; although even striving to have pure hearts – not doing things for selfish motives – and working for peace are not common things these days). And, yet, these are the people God says are specially blessed because God is with them; he’s on their side.
The more I seek God, the more I have found that he can be found among the poor, with the oppressed, and in the places we would least wish to look for him.
That’s where he is.
God isn’t on the side of maintaining “status quo”. He’s not on the side of keeping systems, control, and power where they have always been. God isn’t interested in preserving systems that give some people control while making others “less than”.
God is actively opposed to these systems and will bring every mountain low while he raises up those on the under side of power.
That’s the hope and promise of advent. That’s the good news of incarnation.
When I look at the world, my question today is always; where are people – in the world; in Canada; in my community – being oppressed, mistreated, excluded, or used?
Wherever those people are found, that’s where God is … so I want to be there too.