Saturday, December 12, 2015

Advent 2015

"A Song for the Poor"


In the church, one of our touchstone passages for Advent is Mary's Magnificat.  We talk about Mary praising God for his peculiar selection of her and acknowledging that Elizabeth and her son were right in recognizing the blessings to be heaped on Mary and Jesus.  We sing it, joining our selves to Mary in "magnify[ing] the Lord."  When it comes right down to it, Mary spends most of the song in the crux of the contact between God and the world.  She gets it:  God "has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant" (Luke 1:48 nrsv).  She's going to be called "blessed" (a word also translatable as "enviable") for pretty much ever (v.48). Mary knows herself:  a blessed, enviable, lowly servant.  She also knows God's got a pattern of coming down on the side of people like her:  responding to fear with mercy, to hunger with food, and to servanthood with help (Luke 1:50, 53-4).  But I'm not so sure this is where God finds me, or, to be honest, most of us.

We are rich.

This spring I heard a lot of amazement that I wasn't distraught when my apartment burned down.  The night of the fire, when my car, an attaché packed amid three minutes of uncertainty, and the fruits of a hurried and flustered shopping trip to Target were all of my material possessions, even if I hadn't had money in the bank, insurance coverage, and an extraordinarily generous church family, I'd still count as economically better off than most of the world's population, including at least 20% of those in America.

With the wealth and resources I control, I honestly don't know how to be humble, but I can see that Mary knows why.  As she continues with her Magnificat, Mary nails down just who our God is.  She prophetically describes her experience of God as part of God's usual way of doing things, seeing his holiness and mercy in that "he has scattered the proud, [...] brought down the powerful [...], and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:51-3 nrsv).

No wonder Jesus' most interesting and apparently noteworthy interactions would be with the poor and outcast:  God seems to be in the business of tearing down the world's movers and shakers.  Making the world into which Jesus came more like the one it was made to be means, in part, enlarging on God's heaping of blessings upon the poor, hungry, and lowly by whom we are surrounded.


- Jenni Halpin


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