Click here to read Isaiah 61:1-11, and here to read Luke 1:39-56.
If a preacher isn’t honest, he or she shouldn’t be preaching. I need to start today by telling you how very hard it is for me to preach into the joy of Advent today.
Last week, Bill shared during our time of joys and concerns that four members of the Christian Peacemakers Team were abducted in
Tom Fox is one of the men abducted by Swords of Righteousness. In May of this year he wrote about the mission of the Christian Peacemakers Team in
As I write this, Tom and his coworkers are still alive. The people at Swords of Righteousness are threatening to kill the four peacemakers on Saturday, December 10th. Even still, the headquarters of the Christian Peacemakers Team have released a statement saying that “While we believe the action of kidnapping is wrong, we do not condemn you as people. We recognize the humanity in each person, and respect it very much. This includes you, our colleagues, and all people.” Men and women who volunteer as members of Christian Peacemakers Teams make a commitment to reject violence, even if violence is done to them. They covenant to stand firm against evil, and they swear not to dehumanize their persecutors.
As you can imagine, the work of the Christian Peacemakers Team is controversial. And perhaps no one despises the mission and method of the Peacekeepers Team more than Rush Limbaugh. On his November 29th radio broadcast, Limbaugh said that he liked that this is happening to Tom Fox, James Loney, Harmeet Singh Sooden, and Norman Kember. "Here's why I like it… any time a bunch of people that walk around with their head in the sand practicing a bunch of irresponsible, idiotic theory confront reality, I'm kind of happy about it, because I'm eager for people to see reality, change their minds if necessary, and have things sized up.” I listened to a recording of this broadcast—I had to hear these hateful words come out of Rush Limbaugh’s mouth to believe that he really said them. And now I cannot get them out of my head. They infuriate me and distract me from my prayers for the peacemakers.
Only Rush Limbaugh might have been right about one thing. He called prophetic Christianity a bunch of irresponsible, idiotic theory. According to the standards of the world, Christianity is irresponsible and idiotic. And it is in our most idiotic doctrines that I finally weave my way back to a place where hope is real, peace is possible, and joy is in the air.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary sings. Here is a girl who is unmarried and impoverished, and who has recently been visited by an angel with a very peculiar message. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Mary had every reason to run screaming from this angel, every cause to consider him an Angel of Darkness, not a messenger of the Lord. For having a child out of wedlock, she could be stoned for adultery. At the very least, she could be rejected by Joseph, her parents, her village. She could spend the rest of her days in even deeper poverty, struggling to keep herself and her child fed outside the safety of a marriage and community.
But she doesn’t reject God’s ridiculous plan to inhabit her womb. She hurries to see her cousin Elizabeth and breaks into song: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; 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. He has helped his servant
This great hymn of praise has empowered the oppressed and unnerved oppressors for millennia. Mary, who knows our Creator so intimately she carries the Son of God, sings of a God who reaches down and touches the pain of his people. This God lifts up the victims of economic poverty and political violence and draws them into his gentle arms, the way a mother hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings. And this God sends the proud packing. The powerful and corrupt kings who are fluent in the ways of violence and domination are deposed. The rich, who have hoarded the stuff of Creation for their own purposes, are sent away with nothing to show for their greed.
Now let’s get back to our irresponsible and idiotic faith. Instances of Christian foolishness are really adding up. As Christians, we believe in a divine incarnation—that God took human form in the person of Jesus. What’s more, we believe that a young virgin in a Podunk town in
At the time that Mary sings her revolutionary anthem, though, nothing has yet changed on the surface, for God’s time is not akin to our own. She claims that God has brought down the powerful from their thrones—but the
It’s irresponsible. It’s idiotic. And yet every word of Mary’s delirious rejoicing is true. The magnification of God that emanates from Mary’s soul, that jeweled core of each human, is deeply, radically, eternally truthful.
The joy of Christmas is all about trusting God’s promise to redeem creation, and Mary’s song reveals the ultimate meaning of the incarnation that is growing within the space of her womb. With the birth of this child—or, more accurately, the conception of this child by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit—the course of human history is transformed, altered drastically for the better. Things are not right—this much we are sure of. We believe that God created the world to be a garden of praise and life, not a den of pain and death.
It isn’t right that bodies deteriorate and die. Women shouldn’t be widowed. Young girls shouldn’t be killed in senseless car accidents. Neighborhoods shouldn’t be ruled by guns. Buildings shouldn’t be felled by terrorists. Nations shouldn’t quarrel with bombs. Lakes shouldn’t be polluted by toxins. But God is moving, and a pregnant young girl bears witness to the glory at hand. A beautiful change is in gestation, and the final triumph of life over death is inevitable.
Centuries before Mary revealed the great works of the Mighty One in her bold canticle, the prophet Isaiah issued a divine clarion call: “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” (NRSV)
In Isaiah’s words, we find the same unabated rejoicing in the work of our God. Now we have the fact of oppression, the excruciating pain of broken hearts; Isaiah declares the advent of good news and the binding up of wounds. Now we have captives and prisoners— Isaiah affirms that our four brothers in
The child developing within Mary, who causes John the Baptist to jump for joy within his mother’s womb, will grow into a King whose reign is everlasting. And the words he will use to illuminate his holy mission at the beginning of his ministry in the Gospel of Luke are these words of Isaiah. He is the anointed one. He has been sent to bring good news; indeed, he is the good news. Everything is going to change, all because God is enfolded into a human being. Intervention by incarnation.
It may be irresponsible and idiotic to trust the impassioned words of the virgin and the prophet. But blessed are they who are made fools for Christ!
The same spirit of God that came upon Isaiah and overshadowed Mary still moves among us today. The light is bright now, though we are still living in the darkness. Now we pray fervently for wars to cease and captives to be liberated; now we petition anxiously for beloved ones to survive another round of chemotherapy and another barrage of tests. And even now we rejoice, for through the lens of the Magnificat, everything looks very different. Let us join our souls with Mary’s to magnify the Lord. Stand and sing, friends. The Son of God is on the way!