To see the first Advent Project post, go here.
The first, and often, central person in the nativity story is Mary. Growing up, I pictured her as a pretty young lady who always wore blue- for some reason- and would never hurt a fly. On church walls and famous paintings, she’s depicted as royalty. I’m not sure how we missed it, but the true person of Mary is not quite so.
When Mary found out about the baby in her belly, she sang a song about things being turned upside down. It’s called The Magnifacat, in Luke 1:46-55. Whereas the Jews were expecting a royal king to lead them to victory, the Son of God was actually born into poverty, to a no-name peasant, in a good-for-nothing town. What we often skip over in church is that Mary’s song starts to talk about the reversal of social orders. She actually gets political as she’s praying:
“[God] has scattered the proud in their inmost thoughts,
put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich has sent empty away.”
Robert McAfee Brown, author of Unexpected News offers this unconventional commentary:
“Mary offers two vivid contrasts between the lowly raised up and the high brought low. The first is political, the second economic… ‘The mighty’ are not only political nations and empires but economic manipulators of other people’s destinies, those who decide which plant will close and which stay open; or decide that Nicaragua must fall regardless of what the people of Nicaragua want; or decree that their corporation will destroy an independent company through a price war, since they can sustain a loss until the smaller competitor gives up… Mary is saying that ‘those of low degree,’ meaning those without power- the oppressed, the no-account, the poor- are the ones God will lift up…
‘God has filled the hungry with good things…’ Imagine the hope such a claim would engender in the two thirds of the human family who go to bed hungry every night. The political implications of the hope are obvious to them. Waiting around for the rich to feed the poor isn’t the way to go, so the poor will have to take matters into their own hands. Yes, God will fill their mouths, but God expects them to help. At the time of the exodus, God could show the people the way to the Promised Land, but the people themselves had to undertake the journey. Similarly, in the matter of hunger, with which Mary is dealing here, the people will have to challenge political and economic systems that help the rich get richer while the poor get poorer…”
For most of my life, I heard a completely different focus in church- that of spiritual and eternal matters. And I hear that focus almost exclusively in Jamaica as well. But Mary is talking about political and social reversal, something revolutionary, and here on Earth. How did we miss this? And what else have we been missing? Until next time… -M