Our CEO, Scott Sanders introduces our "Being Present" Advent series with a reflection from Isaiah on what it means to pursue peace during this season.
I feel underqualified to write this post. As an Evangelical, I come from a tradition that has not done Mary justice. And as a middle aged male, I’m more likely to understand old Joseph than teenage Mary. In fact, a young woman who lived in an age where women were ‘given in marriage’ and viewed more as possessions than people, and a male in modern Western society could not be further apart. And yet Mary’s humility, willingness to serve, and hope in the promises of God has much to teach us all.
The problem is, we too easily forget what God actually promises us, and replace them with what we want to be promised to us. I can remember as a young Christian thinking that God promised me hassle free relationships. My shaky days of short term dating relationships became a major issue of faith. It’s easy for me to look back at that now and laugh, but there’s a big part of me that still longs for things that God hasn’t promised, like freedom from conflict, an easy life, and success. Anyone who knows me understands I’m far too argumentative for a conflict free life!
So what promises does Mary prophesy of? Ultimately, it is God’s promise to deal with the problem of evil. Philosophers wax lyrical about the nature of evil, psychologists may try to explain it away. Politicians point to it as something out there we can bomb. Yet as Tom Wright points out, rather than a fully developed theodicy, after 11 chapters of description, Genesis gives us a genealogy that leads to Abraham. Luke reminds us that the Old Testament is not something to set aside or to mine for moral examples for Sunday School. Instead, all the promises that were made to Abraham and his family come down to the faithfulness of a little Jewish girl and the son she was to bear, because God is a God of mercy.
We might take the list of contrasts and opposites too lightly, too familiar and too comfortably, because we forget which side we often sit on. I’ve achieved quite a bit, and probably have cause for some pride. I’m powerful compared to most of the world, and rarely hungry (I’ve just smashed out a yummy chocolate bar while writing this). Unless I continue to ponder what it really means to fear the holy name, can I expect mercy?
The promises are to God’s servant Israel. If this is to reflect the new people of God consisting of Jew and Gentile, then the two things we share are God’s promises and the status of servanthood. Jesus himself takes on both mantles, and we in turn in him take on both. So we are servants of God, inheriting the promises of great reversals of fortune in response to the evil we see around us.
Of course, like Israel and the early church, we continue to live with the enigma that the proud are not always scattered, the powerful brought down and the lowly lifted up, or the hungry filled with good things.
If modern politics demonstrates anything, it is that servanthood has been exchanged for self-service, power is sought for its own sake and the lowly are made a Scapegoat; think of the way Indigenous people, the unemployed, disabled and asylum seekers are portrayed by government and certain sections of the media for example. Mary saw clearly that her womb held the solution to all of this.
If we are to be the recipients of this promise, we are also to be its agents of fulfilment in the world in which we live. This is not, as my Evangelical heritage forces me to remind myself, that the final blessing is some kind of political or social justice ‘movement’, or that in my efforts I bring in the kingdom in which all of this becomes final. Yet nonetheless, if we don’t act as agents of change, agents of mercy, if we don’t seek to lift up the lowly and feed the hungry, we don’t understand how lowly we really are. Mary did that. We don’t really fear God. Mary did that. We don’t understand the promises of God. Mary did. A first century Jewish teen girl has much to teach a 21st century middled aged white male. Who knew?
Mick Pope works with Ethos: EA Centre for Christianity and Society, and is a freelance Christian writer. Image credit: Ben White
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Daily Reading Luke 1:39-56
Mary Visits Elizabeth
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Mary’s Song of Praise
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.