Rev Katherine Rainger reflects on the ancient and contemporary desire for peace.
Rulers and powers
Advent presents us with an opportunity to reflect on who holds the balance of power and we sit in the picture.
Daily Reading Luke 1:39-56
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
Mary’s beautiful, heart-felt, Spirit-led song includes a reference to bringing down rulers from their thrones.
When we think about our rulers today, we’re often drawn to think about those holding office in government, such as politicians. But our politicians don’t sit on thrones: they sit as democratically elected representatives in parliaments. Times have certainly changed over a couple of thousand years: we can be thankful we don’t live under the strong, brutal, oppressive rule of Rome.
When I reflect more deeply on the nature of power in our globalised world, I cannot help thinking of the 26 billionaires who own as much as the poorest 3.8 billion people on planet earth. These wealthy elites may not sit on literal thrones, but they hold immense power through their capacity to control not only material and financial resources, but also the media, which in turn shapes our view of the world in quite profound ways.
And surely this level of inequity can only be considered as obscene, in light of God’s invitation for us to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly? (Micah 6:8) Does the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God extend to bringing justice in our economic dealings, across the world? Is that why the gospel is particularly good news for the poor? (Luke 4:18)
How should we receive this news? Our media-saturated, consumer society likes to set us up as queens and kings on our virtual thrones, installed within our glamourous private palaces. The ‘market’ entices us toward believing that we are thoroughly entitled to lives of material comfort and peace - almost as a divine right: the next best thing can and should be ours! The massive take-up of Buy-Now, Pay-Later schemes is just one sign of an unravelling culture driven by a deep and impatient sense of personal entitlement, with an ever-diminishing sense of our important responsibilities to others - including creation - as the global citizens that we in fact are.
Surely we are the ones who are so often proud in our innermost thoughts, rather than living as people who genuinely fear God? Indeed, our collective culture exhibits key hallmarks of narcissism: a tendency toward not only entitlement but also a willingness to engage in the exploitation of others, along with a failure to demonstrate empathy.
Mary’s words present a challenge to us in our relative wealth and privilege, especially as we lead into the frenzied consumerism that tends to characterise contemporary Christmas. Advent presents us with an opportunity to be humbled; to reconsider our place in the world; to learn to focus on the other; and to learn how to genuinely express tender care. Becoming attentive to the daily struggle of our sisters and brothers around the world - refusing the temptation to turn away from them in their time of need - might just bring us to our knees. In time our prayers might even come to echo theirs:
How long, Lord, must we wait? How long must we suffer?
How long until you lift us up, fill our hungry bellies, and set us free?
How long until your Kingdom of truth and peace and abundance comes,
in all its wonderful fullness?
Oh may your Kingdom come, may your will be done...
… and may you come quickly, Lord Jesus.
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