As we prepare for the birth of Christ, I think it fitting to share a blog post which I published at this time last year reflecting on Jesus’s mother Mary and her song of praise, the Magnificat. Mary’s words remain radical even today. Christmas blessings to you, +GOB
I’ve heard the Magnificat, the Song of Mary in Luke 2:46-55, for decades. And the tendency with any familiar passage is to let it roll over your head and therefore fail to wrestle with its content or its import. I confess I’ve often had that attitude with this one.
But when I sat down, opened the scriptures, and began to look at this passage again, I was drawn up short. Young Mary is standing in the home of her cousin Elizabeth, and something happens. She bursts forth with a rich song of praise that ends with some extraordinary statements that shook the expected order of things at the time. And if we pay attention, these radical ideas will shake our world as well.
- God inspires radical relationship.
“He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51b-53).
Well, that wouldn’t exactly have played well in our presidential election, would it? Much less in terms of what we want for ourselves and for our families.
And so there is something extraordinarily subversive in these words inspired by the Holy Spirit. They capture in beautiful poetry God’s work throughout the life and ministry of Jesus. Over and over in the Gospels, we see how he says yes to the poor and no to the rich, raises up the humble and leaves the proud in the dust, and, in essence, creates a whole new kind of social order.
That happens here. And the fact that these prophetic words are spoken through a fourteen-year-old pregnant out-of-wedlock girl as opposed to some exalted male prophet is, in and of itself, a portent of things to come.
- God demands radical commitment.
The world will look very different in the kingdom of God. And because that’s the case, these words have extraordinary import for all Christians. If we have said yes to Christ, if the Spirit of God is present in our hearts and God is at work in us.
This passage describes what he’s doing. It’s meant to threaten any of our loyalties, affinities, and commitments that have run contrary to the work of the Spirit of God in our lives, regardless of their source. Because God says he is fighting against that which opposes: “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 1:51b).
Let’s come back and look at this passage again. It may not be the gentle poetry you imagine. It’s almost a description of a battle: “Are you going to fight against the Lord? Well, guess what’s going to happen to you.”
I believe God is fully awake and only fights against that which resists him. This awake God is drawing us out of those loyalties that stand in opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit, telling us we must leave them behind. We can’t go home again. But in so doing, he is both making us fit for the true home he has prepared for us and working in us the kind of discipleship that allows us to express what he plans to do in the world.
- God impels radical service.
Every time, for example, we participate in an act of generosity and choose instead to reach out and serve another person, particularly someone the world might think unworthy, we’re expressing a kingdom value. A kingdom where we all stand on level ground before the cross of Christ. A kingdom where each of us receives what we don’t deserve, what God chooses to pour out on us out of blatant, intense love.
Every time we demonstrate the capacity to love and give as well as to serve, exalt, and lift others up that some would like to leave behind, we express something of what God has done and is doing. He challenges us to the core of our desires to have what we want when we want it, for the world to operate under our authority. He is getting to the heart of that attitude and working in us the kind of humility that says, “Even in the worst of situations, there but for the grace of God go I.”
God is doing in us and expressing through us the kind of eternal work that will be the mark of the kingdom of heaven, being made real in our lives right now.
Your Radical Response
So for us to hear this song, this prophetic word from Mary, we must be anchored in the security of God’s gifts. Otherwise, we hear it not as a sign of blessing but judgment. We can receive it as a sign of blessing only because we’ve been adopted, we’ve been grafted in, we are inheritors of the kingdom, we’re invited into the kind of intimate relationship with God that allows us to look into the very throne room of heaven and cry, “Abba!” which means “Dad!”
So I would invite you, in response to this subversive, revolutionary call of the Song of Mary, “God, work that humility within me, and make me fit to serve, that I might be in some way, in some small way, an expression of that which you are doing in the world. Amen.”
What radical response do you have to Mary’s Song? Share this blog and your comments on Twitter and include my username, @revgregbrewer.
Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.