Mary sings that God is turning the world upside down, looking for the lowly, the hungry, those in pain, to lift them up and bring life to them. That will mean loss for us, but the grace is that God also comes to us.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourth Sunday of Advent, year B
texts: Luke 1:46b-55 (The Magnificat, the psalm for this day); 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Can we really sing this song?
“You have shown the strength of your arm and scattered the proud in their conceit. You have cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. You have filled the hungry with good things, and you have sent the rich away empty.”
We sang this. Mary sang this. Are we sure we want what we’re singing? This is Exodus language, “the strength of your arm.” That’s how God freed the Israelite slaves. This is end-of-Babylon language; God brought back the exiles with a “strong hand and an outstretched arm.”
We should be careful about singing this song. If the proud and conceited, the rich and mighty are going to be cast down, well, don’t look too far. We’re talking about ourselves.
Mary could sing this song.
Mary was hungry. She certainly was lowly. Pride and a sense of being mighty never crossed her mind. She sang of God’s revolution, that in her child to come God would turn the world upside down. This was good news to her.
Gabriel told her the wonder that her child would be the promised heir to David’s throne. “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” In Samuel today David is promised his house will last forever, there will always be a king in his line. So this lowly, hungry young woman on the bottom of society’s pile is to give birth to a new ruler of Israel.
Mary had good reason to sing this song.
But Mary didn’t know that God’s plan was very different than Gabriel and Nathan seemed to imply.
She didn’t know that God’s plan to have a Shepherd King had changed significantly since David’s day, that God would come and offer his life for the world as Shepherd. The fulfillment of the promise would not be in creating a new emperor, or overthrowing a government, replacing the proud with the lowly only to have the lowly become the new dominators and tyrants, the way the world does such things.
It would be by the Son of God dying for love of the world, ruling from a cross, and transforming those who would follow into agents for this new world.
Forty days after her son’s birth, Mary begins to hear this truth. Simeon tells her of the sword that will pierce her heart. Mary begins to learn this turning upside down was going to be very costly for the Son of God, her son, and for her.
Had she known, would she have asked the same thing: can I really sing this song?
And what of us? Will we sing it?
Mary’s song tells about the heart of Jesus’ coming: it’s the beginning of God’s revolution, where the elites are brought down and the lowly lifted up.
We should be careful what we ask for, what we sing. Glibly rejoicing in God’s overturning of the world order, even if subversively instead of with oppressive power, shows we don’t understand what that means to those of us on the top of the pile. Celebrating the cross of Jesus without understanding what it calls to us who follow Jesus, shows our blindness to God’s plan.
If we are not the lowly, the hungry, that means we are the others, the powerful, the mighty, the rich, the full. How will we meet God, if Magnificat is true? In fear, because we’re about to be scattered, cast down, sent away empty?
If we’re not prepared for how God has come into the world, we should be careful what we sing.
But we need this song: it says where God will be.
If we sing this song, we remember we can only meet God where God is.
God is at the kids’ table in the kitchen, not at the grownups table with the important people. God is on the floor with the dogs and the grandkids, not sitting neatly in a suit on the couch, because that’s where the playing can happen. God is there, and with any whom others discount as not fully as important as the rest. Such lives matter to God.
God is in the poorest places in this country, in this city, with those who have nothing, who must strategically plan their days and their weeks to find the right resources from this church and that church, this agency and that agency, stringing together food and shelter for their families. Some while working multiple jobs. Some unable to find jobs. God is there, because such lives matter to God.
God is with those who face discrimination and humiliation because of who they are born to be, who don’t recognize the same world some of us enjoy. With those who, even in this new era in which we find ourselves, still are cast out because of their orientation, because of the way they were made to be loving. God is with those who are judged not by anything they do or don’t do, by their good actions or their bad actions, but only by the color of their skin. God is there, because such lives matter to God.
God is with anyone who feels less than others, anyone who struggles with shame and guilt, anyone who deals with fear and anxiety, anyone who is chased by depression, anyone who can’t seem to do things right no matter how hard they try, anyone who seems to face bad luck at every turn, anyone who mourns. God is there, because such lives matter to God.
We sing this song because the heart of God is where we want to be and this is where the heart of God is.
This song teaches us much.
As we meet Jesus we see that the world’s way of revolution – flipping the roles, setting new people in a place of domination – is not how this song will work. Jesus doesn’t destroy the proud or keep the rich from eating. The proud are brought down and the lowly lifted up so all are equal before God. Every valley exalted, every hill made low, all are on the same level. The rich are moved away from the table so the hungry can come and eat, but the table has room for all. It’s a feast for the whole creation. There’s room enough for all, grace enough for all.
God identifies most deeply with the lowly, not just to lift them up, but to walk with them in the moving. The birth of this baby in humble surroundings is only the beginning of the Son of God’s place with the lowest and the neediest and the hungriest and the poorest, to move them into the grace of God. Following Jesus, we find, means we go there, too. We willingly participate in this sharing, this overturning.
We can sing this song because Jesus’ heart is that all are fed and whole and blessed. That could mean us, too.
When we sing this song, the light dawns on us that maybe we aren’t so high and mighty after all.
As we sing with Mary, we begin to recognize our own need and hunger, our own lack. For some of us it’s nothing like many people face every day. For many of us it’s more a spiritual hunger than a physical, more a spiritual poverty than a physical, more a spiritual lowliness than a physical. But it’s still a need.
Mary’s song teaches us that it’s OK to admit we’re lowly, needy. We never were that important to start with. Once we realize we’re in need, we’re on the right track. Those who have no need of a physician, Jesus says, aren’t necessarily healthy. They just don’t think they need a doctor.
All we need to have happen to find our place at the table, to find God at our side, is to recognize how desperately we need that. To set aside our pride, our sense of power and privilege, our need for material security.
We are the proud and mighty and full in many ways. God’s revolution means we will let go of a lot of things. We’re going to have to come down while bringing others up, so all can live and eat and thrive.
When we can sing that, we also find God’s deep love for us.
So let’s sing with Mary, let’s sing this song and help it come to reality. It’s a song of hope and promise for everyone who is brokenhearted, everyone who is brought down, everyone who needs the love and grace of God.
The good news is, that also means us.
In the name of Jesus. Amen