Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent 2017 Readings | A Divine Disruption and Magnification by Christiana Rice


The provocative message in the song of Mary continues to disrupt our world today. If we believe Mary's words to be true, then there is great hope for the ongoing redemption of God, especially in the darkest corners of our world.


Previous Advent 2017 Readings Post: For to Us a Child Is Born by Eugene Peterson

"A Divine Disruption" excerpt from Christiana Rice and Michael Frost's To Alter Your World: Partnering with God to Rebirth Our Communities

Scriptures: Luke 1:46-55

Mary knew, as she awaited the birth of the Messiah Jesus, that in her womb she carried the one who was to interrupt human progress like no other. Myriad prophecies spoke about the child growing inside her. Mary yearned for a Messiah who would tear down the oppressive regime and establish a new kingdom of justice.

The incarnation was a severe disruption of an existing paradigm. God chose to enter the world through the womb of a virgin Jewish peasant girl from the small village of Nazareth. Mary faced an uncertain future with potential retribution from her whole community. The Gospel of Matthew is careful to state that Joseph, her fiance, planned to quietly release her from her commitment to marry him rather than expose her to public humiliation and torture (Matthew 1:18-19). 

So Mary courageously accepts the call and carries the Christ child to full term, anticipating an alteration of life as she knew it. What a bold, venturesome and heroic young woman! Jesus the baby boy would stir up the family system into which he was born. There would be dissonance, reorientation and adjustment for Mary's new family. Jesus the Messiah, God in flesh, would disrupt the social order into which he was born. The political stasis would be rattled, power structures confronted, injustices brought to light and a strong voice given to the weak. In the turbulent waiting Mary sang, holding together the grittiness of her own life on the margins and a resilient hope in the God she trusted. Mary proclaimed the identity of Jesus as Messiah in what we've come to know as the Magnificat.

In its Latin translation, Magnificat is the first word of a longer phrase, Magnificat anima mea Dominum, translated, "My soul magnifies the Lord":

Luke 1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
48 for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
49 for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. 
50 And 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 mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 
53 He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. 
54 He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, 
55 as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever.”
Mary laments her own pain and that of the weary world around her. Her faith is fierce. Carolyn Sharp says she envisions Mary as "a girl who sings defiantly to her God through her tears, fists clenched against an unknown future. Mary's courageous song of praise is a radical resource for those seeking to honor the holy amid the suffering and conflicts of real life" ("Luke 1:39-56: Magnificat for a Broken World," Huffington Post, December 14, 2011). 

In the 1980s, the Guatemalan government decided that Mary's words about God's preferential love for the poor were too dangerous and revolutionary. The words of the Magnificat had been stirring the hearts of Guatemala's poor population. Mary's words about the Christ child were inspiring the poor to believe that freedom and change were indeed possible and that following the way of Jesus would interrupt the flow of civilization as they knew it. As passion swelled, the government banned any public recitation of the Magnificat. 

Likewise, in Argentina, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, whose husbands and children had been disappeared under the country's oppressive military dictatorship, posted copies of the Magnificat throughout the central plaza of the capital to protest this injustice. These women were initial responders as lives were taken and families were broken apart by Argentina's military regime. Their activism not only helped rescue lives but also created local and global awareness around issues of human rights violations in Latin America and elsewhere. 

Jesus turns everything upside down, pulling apart kingdoms and announcing the full reign of God in his words, in his deeds and in the power of the Spirit. The incarnation disrupts the fabric of society and changes history forever.

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflected on the revolutionary nature of Mary's song in an Advent sermon he gave in 1933. He said,

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 hymns ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here. This song ...  is a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary's mouth (Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons by Edwin Robertson, from a sermon from the third Sunday of Advent, December 17, 1933, ).

The provocative message in the song of Mary continues to disrupt our world today. If we believe Mary's words to be true, then there is great hope for the ongoing redemption of God, especially in the darkest corners of our world. A new world was being birthed and continues to be birthed to this day. And perhaps Mary's words communicate the call and the purpose of the community of faith that chooses to align with this mission of God in Jesus. Certainly, following this way of life is revolutionary. When the followers of the Incarnate One enter into a neighborhood or a group or a community, they cannot help but create disruption because they come as representatives of the Disruptive One. But more than that, the church has to remain conscious of the fact that God is birthing a new world in Christ. God is scattering the proud, bringing down rulers from their thrones, lifting up the humble and feeding the hungry with good things. As this world unfurls around us, we join as partners in God's restorative purposes.

Next post: Advent 2017 Readings | Story of God | Immanuel Has Been His Plan for Us Always by David Fitch

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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