Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Magnificat | The Bold & Courageous 1st Advent Hymn

Mary, Mother of God "Courage 3.0" artwork by Tim Okamura at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

God is not ashamed to be with those of humble state. He goes into the midst of it all, chooses one person to be His instrument, and does His miracle there, where one least expects it.

"My Soul Praises the Lord" excerpt adapted from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Third Sunday in Advent Sermon, December 17, 1933 A.D., God Is in the Manger

Scriptures: Luke 1:46-55

This song of Mary's is the oldest Advent hymn. It is the most passionate, most vehement, one might almost say, most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. 

It is not the gentle, sweet, dreamy Mary that we so often see portrayed in pictures, but the passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic Mary, who speaks here. None of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas hymns, but a hard, strong, uncompromising song of bringing down rulers from their thrones and humbling lords of this world, of God's power and of the powerlessness of men. These are the tones of the prophetic women of the Old Testament: Deborah, Judith, Miriam, coming alive in the mouth of Mary.

Mary, filled with the Spirit and prepared. Mary, the obedient handmaid, humbly accepting what is to happen to her, what the Spirit asks of her, to do with her as the Spirit will, speaks now by the Spirit of the coming of God into the world, of the Advent of Jesus Christ. She knows better than anyone what it means to wait for Christ. ...

She experiences in her own body that God does wonderful things with the children of humanity, that His ways are not our ways, that He cannot be predicted by us, or circumscribed by our reasons and ideas, but that His way is beyond all understanding or explanations, both free and of His own will. Where our reason is offended, where our nature rebels, where our piety creeps anxiously away, there, precisely there, God loves to be. There, He confuses the understanding of the clever. There He offends our nature, our piety. There He will dwell and no one can deny Him. And now, only the humble can believe Him, and rejoice that God is so free and so wonderful, that He works miracles when the children of men despair. ...

God in "humble state" — that is revolutionary, the passionate word of Advent. 

God is not ashamed to be with those of humble state. He goes into the midst of it all, chooses one person to be His instrument, and does His miracle there, where one least expects it. He loves the lost, the forgotten, the insignificant, the outcasts, the weak, and the broken. Where men say, "lost," He says "found;" where men say, "condemned," He says "redeemed;" where men say "no," He says "yes." Where men look with indifference or superiority, He looks with burning love, such as nowhere else is to be found. Where men say, "contemptible!," God cries, "blessed." When we reach a point in our lives at which we are not only ashamed of ourselves, but believe God is ashamed of us too, when we feel so far from God, more than we have ever felt in our lives, then and precisely then, God is nearer to us than He has ever been. It is then that He breaks into our lives. It is then that He lets us know that that feeling of despair is taken away from us, so that we may grasp the wonder of His love, His nearness to us, and His grace. ...

To call Mary blessed is to know with her that God's "mercy extends to those who fear Him," those who watch and consider His astonishing ways, who let His Spirit blow where it will, those who are obedient to Him and with Mary, humbly say, "May it be to me as You have said."

When God chose Mary for His instrument, when God Himself in the manger at Bethlehem decided to come into this world, that was no romantic family portrait, but the beginning of a total turning point, a new ordering of all things on this earth. If we want to participate in this Advent happening, we cannot simply be like spectators at a theater performance, enjoying all the familiar scenes, but we must ourselves become part of this activity, which is taking place in this "changing of all things." We must have our part in this drama. ...  

Advent: The Magnificat for Every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation (Luke 1:45-55)

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.”

It is the judgment of the world and the salvation of the world being acted out here. And it is the Christ child in the manger, who judges and saves the world. He turns back the great and the powerful. He has brought down the thrones of the rulers. He has humbled the proud. He has used His power against the high and mighty, and has raised up the lowly and made them great and glorious in His compassion. And therefore we cannot approach this manger as we approach the cradle of any other child. But who would go to this manger goes where something will happen. When they leave the manger, they leave either condemned or delivered. Here, they will be broken in pieces or know the compassion of God coming to them. ...

The throne of God in the world is not as human thrones, but is in the depths of the human soul, in the manger. Around His throne, there are not flattering courtiers, but obscure, unknown, unrecognizable forms, who cannot see enough of this wonder and gladly live from God's mercy alone. There are only two places where the powerful and great in this world lose their courage, tremble in the depths of their souls, and become truly afraid. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ. No man of violence dares to approach the manger, even King Herod did not risk that. For it is here that thrones tumble, the mighty fall, and the high and mighty ones are put down, because God is with the poor and the hungry. "He fills the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty." ...

Only a few are really powerful. But there are many more with little power, who when they can, exert what power they have, and live with one thought: that they might have greater power! God's thoughts are the opposite. He desires to be even lower, in humble state, unnoticed, in self-forgetfulness, in insignificance, in worthlessness, not wishing to be high. And it is on this road that we meet with God Himself. ...

P.S. In Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance, Reggie Williams writes about the year Deitrich Bonhoeffer spent in New York City studying at Union Seminary and attending Abyssinian Baptist Church. Among this local church in Harlem, Bonhoeffer's theological vision was inspired, transformed, and embodied through being discipled about Christ and the role of Jesus' Church in the world through this beloved African American community. Bonhoeffer came to understand the dark undercurrents of Nazi leadership differently from many that also opposed Nazi control of Jesus' Church because of his enriched experience and exposure to oppression and racism among those he loved in Abyssinian Baptist Church. It was through seeing the strength of Christ in his African American sisters and brothers that taught him that the role of Jesus' Church is to stand with Him among the oppressed and against their dehumanization. “Bonhoeffer reasoned that suffering must be borne for it to pass,” Williams writes. “And Christ bears His own in the practice of vicarious representative action bearing neighbors’ burdens. That is Christian discipleship, and it is a Christ-inspired motivation for justice.” 

"Jose y Maria" by Everett Patterson

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

Soli Jesu gloria.

From Illustrated Ministry's Advent Journey Coloring Pages & Devotional Guide

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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