Exile: Advent Hope, Part 3 of 3

Mary’s song about the God who topples kingdoms and sends the rich away empty points us to the upside down subversive reign of God. We are invited to turn our attention to the poem of Isaiah: a king is coming and his reign of peace and fairness and justice will never end. Now, standing on this side of Advent, our minds shift from Mary’s song and Isaiah’s poem to Jesus’ prayer when he said, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

When you and I pray, “May your kingdom come,” we are saying, “May my kingdom go.” Like Mary I am reminded that God’s promise of the King who would usher in a different kingdom will not allow me to split loyalties. I can wisely use the systems of this world, but never believe in them to save. Only the king of a different kingdom can do that.

Advent proposes that we put our hope in Emmanuel, God with us, whose ever-present Kingship and the eternal life He brings is our well-being. Advent proposes that we put our hope in the Wonderful Counselor who can teach us the way of discerning life in a world of temporary kingdoms and false allegiances. Advent proposes that we put our hope in the Redeemer who joyfully declares that no one is ever beyond redemption. Advent proposes that we put our hope in the Eternal Father who shows us that all people are made in God’s image and that we are loved far more than we can ever imagine. Advent proposes that we put our hope in the Prince of Peace who invites us to become instruments of peace where, when we trade fear, selfishness, and bitterness for hospitality, generosity and forgiveness, we find the meaning of our identity as sons and daughters of God.

~ Fred

“Lord grant me the grace to do one thing at a time today, without rushing or hurrying. Help me to savor the sacred in all I do, be it large or small. By the power of the Holy Spirit, empower me to pause today as I move from one activity to the next. Unclutter my heart, O God, until I am quiet enough to hear you speak out of the silence. Forgive me for running my life without you sometimes. Help me to be still, to surrender to your will, and to rest in your loving arms. Amen.”

Pete Scazzero¹

¹ This quote is taken from the Advent Daily Offices by Rich Villodas (p. 7)

Exile: Advent Hope, Part 2 of 3

The Christmas story as told by the gospel writers has two sides. One is beautiful. One is broken. Both come together to form a single story that offers us what Fleming Rutledge says is, “an unparalleled opportunity to take a fearless inventory of the darkness in our world and in our hearts, into which the True Light will come.”

The story reminds us that God enters into the darkness and meets us in our messes.

The first Christmas was not celebrated with discounts from merchants and merriment from governments committed to honoring the Christ of Christmas. Yes, there was gold and frankincense and myrrh, but there was also pain and blood and tears. Christmas is about Herod the Great ordering a genocide. It is young mothers from Bethlehem to Jerusalem clinging to their baby boys as the soldiers storm in to their homes with knives in their hands. Christmas is fathers feeling helpless with no way to stop the executive order to have their sons murdered. Christmas is Mary and Joseph fleeing their home as refugees to escape from Bethlehem to Egypt, not knowing if they would ever be able to return.

There was a war with Christmas from the beginning and it began long ago. The poet-prophet Isaiah said:

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:6-7)

In a strange way it’s exactly this ongoing war with Christmas that becomes our hope.

Christmas is the story of God as the Coming One who disorders the world as we know it for the sake of an alternative world in line with the realities of the coming future of God. Jesus, as Israel’s Messiah, proclaimed the coming Kingdom of God as good news and demonstrated the nature of that reign by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, healing the sick, casting out demons, eating with tax collectors and sinners, and inviting all hearers to leave the realities of the old way of doing things behind to serve the coming future of God. God has come and is coming, offering us the hope of a world the principalities and powers of the age are incapable of giving us—a restored world where self-giving love, abiding peace and unending joy flow from the fullness of God’s presence. It is a world that through His in-breaking kingdom, has come into the present through the Resurrected Lord, yet is a world that will fully come in His Return in the consummation of His kingdom—the final Advent. This is the advent story.

In the meantime, you and I can know that as the way with Christmas carries on and each one of us are playing our part, God still enters into the darkness and meets us in our mess. Advent reminds us that we must wait.

We wait in hope, peace, joy and love. In a world filled with divisive politics, the suffering of places like Libya, the violence of poverty despite the abundance of wealth, and the sheer weight of brokenness that arises from the death-dealing grip of the pursuit of power, we need Advent in order to remember. We need to remember to trust that God is at work in the world. We need to remember that through the coming of the long expected King Jesus God’s people have been invited to join him in his work as watchful, waiting and discerning witnesses to the world that is and is to come.

~ Fred

(Final post will come Friday)

Exile: Advent Hope, Part 1 of 3

In Bethlehem the Christmas we all know and love is happening. It involves a baby, a manger, Joseph, Mary, angels, a bright and shining star and lowly shepherds. This is the Christmas we celebrate in school plays and the one we think about as we decorate the tree and hang our stockings on the chimney with care. It’s the sights and sounds of this Christmas that feels so good as we walk through Busch Garden’s Christmas in lights or stroll about Colonial Williamsburg the night of Grand Illumination.

We love Christmas. The reality, what we love most about Christmas is only a part of the story. Matthew and Luke do not want to us to miss the larger story of Christmas.

The gospel writers Matthew and Luke tell us that Christmas includes a crazy king who rules over Jerusalem. He has privilege with Rome, position in Jerusalem, and power over the Jews. He goes by the name of Herod the Great. Like all people of privilege, position and power, his most pressing concern is keeping it. Herod the Great wants nothing less than to remain great.

Marys-magnificatChristmas is also about a young unmarried peasant girl named Mary who receives a word from a heavenly messenger that she would give birth to the long awaited King of Israel promised by the prophets. It’s a song she sings in contemplation and celebration, in protest and prophecy; we call it Mary’s Magnificat. It’s the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament. It’s a revolutionary song so politically charged that centuries later it would be banned in various forms by different governments, three just within the past century.

Around 1857, the British in India, under the East India Company, banned the Magnificat from being sung in monasteries. Getting the natives stirred up with ideas of the hungry being fed, the poor lifted up and the rich and powerful overthrown and sent away empty might not go well for the British. It is also written that in the 1980s, Guatemala’s government discovered Mary’s words about God’s preferential love for the poor to be dangerous and revolutionary. The song could inspire Guatemala’s impoverished people. Additionally, Argentina’s militia outlawed any public display of Mary’s song when after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, whose children all disappeared during the “Dirty War” (1976-1983), placed the Magnificat’s words on posters throughout the plaza of the Capitol. It goes like this:

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
(Luke 1:46-55)

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized the revolutionary nature of Mary’s song. Before being executed by the Nazis, Bonhoeffer spoke these words in a sermon during Advent in 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 paint- ings; 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” 

Dr. Scot McKnight has suggested that Mary’s Magnificat was to oppressed Jews what “We Shall Overcome” was for oppressed black men and women during the Civil Rights.

The Magnificat is a song about how God will bring down all earthly kingdoms, from sea to shining sea and from Princes to Presidents. Only one kingdom will stand forever. Mary sings about how God will scatter the prideful and powerful and side with the poor, filling them with good things. Her Magnificat is not a nursery rhyme for a baby but a war cry for a Savior-King. It was a prophetic song about what God will do in the Advent of Jesus, as if He had already done them in the past. God’s love, justice and righteousness is working itself out before our very eyes because the King has come and is coming again.

Join Mary in her song and wait in hope. The King has come and is coming again.

~ Fred

(The next post will come Wednesday.)