Dr Kate Harrison Brennan launches our Advent series with a reflection on Christ interrupting our world in a beautiful, political and dramatic way.
Stephen Barrington is CEO and founder of Foothills Community Care, and God’s Squad member.
Today's reading is Luke 1:46-55
It is so easy in the Christmas season to get caught up with the sanitised, domesticated and safe Jesus. We see this today in the form of Christmas carols, manger scenes, farm animals, cute babies, the pull to be consumers and to spend up. It is all around us. It makes us feel comfortable, for the safe baby demands very little of us.
But even before Jesus was born, we see that God was about challenging this order, and calling us to his kingdom, which was, and is, in complete contrast to the Empire and powers of the day.
We see this displayed in today’s reading. The Magnificat, or Mary’s Protest Song is the longest recorded words spoken by a woman in the whole of the New Testament and is Mary’s announcement about the subversive nature of Jesus kingdom and ministry to come. It is inspired by God and comes out of the mouth of a pregnant unwed teenage mother to be, uncertain about her own future on the edge of the powerful Roman Empire.
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized the subversive nature of Mary’s song. Before being executed by the Nazis, he spoke these words in a sermon during Advent on December 17, 1933:
“The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols”.
In it Mary declares:
“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones and raised up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with nothing” (Luke 1:51-53).
For those on the margins, for those who struggle, for those who have been exploited, for the abused and abandoned, for asylum seekers facing an uncertain future at the hands of an inhospitable government, this is good news. This is unexpected beauty. This is the great reversal. Yet for those in power, those who exploit others, there is a different story.
These words are so provocative, that over the past century at least 3 countries have banned the public recitation of them. These governments have considered the song’s message to be too dangerous to the powerful of the day. They include:
During the British rule in India, the singing of the Magnificat in church was prohibited because of its inflammable words. So, on the final day of British rule in India, Gandhi, who was not a Christian, requested that this song be read in all places where the British flag was being lowered.
During the 1980s, the government of Guatemala found the ideas raised by Mary’s proclamation of God’s special concern for the poor to be so dangerous and revolutionary that the government banned any public recitation of Mary’s words.
The dictatorship in Argentina banned Mary's song after the Mothers of the Disappeared displayed its words on placards in the capital plaza.
It is good news to those on the outer, and bad news to those in power and privilege. It calls us to live a different way, to change allegiances and to be a part of Gods Kingdom. Sister Elizabeth Johnson sums it up well,
“The Magnificat is a revolutionary song of salvation whose political, economic, and social dimensions cannot be blunted. People in need in every society hear a blessing in this canticle. The battered woman, the single parent without resources, those without food on the table or without even a table, the homeless family, the young abandoned to their own devices, the old who are discarded: all are encompassed in the hope Mary proclaims”.
The invitation today is, like Mary and later on through Jesus, to see this unexpected beauty in the lives of those on the margins, for it is there that we truly experience the hope of the God who came down to earth, put on skin and lived as one of us. For we are again reminded that Jesus came to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable.
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Daily Reading Luke 1:46-55
Mary’s Song of Praise
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor 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.”