Grace and Peace to you.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
who has looked with favor on me in my lowliness.
The Mighty One has scattered the proud
in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has has brought down
the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”
— from Luke 1. 46-55
Mary is not singing about some metaphor. She is singing about us. We adore heroes and powerful people. We love to pretend that the Bible says (though it doesn’t) that “God helps those who helps themselves.” We cut benefits for the unemployed and give tax breaks to the rich. The cost to end hunger throughout the world is estimated at somewhere around $200 billion a year. Americans will spend $500 billion on Christmas. Yeah, that’s us she’s talking about.
The Magnificat is no sweet lullaby. It is a fierce revolutionary cry against our fear and selfishness, and the political and economic structures that are built on money, power and coercion. And it’s not just a promise of better times for the underdogs. God not only lifts up the lowly but brings down the powerful. And, most radical of all, it is not a dream, a wish, a hope for the future. It’s already been done; it’s an accomplished fact. God has brought down the powerful and fed the hungry.
Oh, yeah? It sure looks like the hungry are still hungry and the powerful are still powerful. —But that’s where we’re wrong. The promise of Christmas is that God comes among us in a revolutionary, life-changing way that transforms both our souls and our society—and that most of the world either will resist it or won’t get it at all. But Advent invites us to see what’s already here but unseen, to receive what’s already been given but not received. Mary invites us to see God’s favor for the poor, to see God’s presence in the lowly, and to see how the selfishly rich and powerful have condemned themselves to lives of emptiness and grief without knowing it. Advent invites us to join contemplation and justice in that mystery we call incarnation: God’s real presence among us in human flesh, the flesh of our companions on this earth: in a poor homeless peasant child laid in a feeding bin, a refugee family fleeing violence, a child among soldiers.
Jesus says, “Go and tell what you see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Mt. 11.5). In Advent we who are blind to God’s presence learn to see; we who are deaf to the good news begin to hear; we who think we understand have something new brought to us. God breaks in like a birth, like a death, and changes everything. God reverses the ways of the world.
This Advent contemplate this mystery: that what is done is hidden in what is not yet, that God’s blessing is hidden in powerlessness, that God’s judgment is masked by riches and power, that God’s presence is embodied among the lowly, that God’s Christ is born among the poor. This Advent contemplate the birth of the Prince of Peace, the Servant of Justice among us, whom we cannot see, but who is already here, reigning in the great power of his mercy.
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes