This coming weekend is the Fourth Sunday of Advent and the Magnificat is read in most Christian churches. The Magnificat begins with Mary glorifying God and praising God for all the great things God has done for her. She then lifts up God’s mercy and ability to do “mighty deeds.”
However, the next couple of lines get much more challenging, and a little subversive. Mary goes on to say that “God has brought down rulers from their thrones and lifted up the humble. God has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” These two lines would not only have been challenging to anyone within earshot, they most certainly would have put both the religious and civic leaders on edge.
As I’ve sat with the Magnificat again this year, I’ve had to ask myself what it means to read Mary’s powerful and challenging words, just two days before Christmas. Do I find myself more in tune with Mary’s exultation and joy, or more in tune with her challenge to those with wealth and power? The answer is a hearty “Yes!” to both for me.
As I watch my four and five year old children while this Advent season unfolds, I am daily aware of what pure, unadulterated joy looks like. It looks like my children’s faces when they see Christmas lights, or catch a glimpse of Santa in a store. It’s their whole body response to “Ned”; the Elf-on-the-Shelf addition to our home. And, it sounds like a “Jingle Bells” and a “Here Comes Santa Claus” medley coming from the back seat of the car. Indeed, there is much to praise and exalt God for in our lives.
I am also keenly aware of those who are actually living Advent at our borders; those waiting with hope and expectation that they might find a better life in the U.S.; those eagerly waiting for some sign that Christmas morning will arrive for them, too.
I’m very aware of all those who are without homes this Advent; those who have given up on the idea of ever having another Christmas morning to anticipate.
I’m painfully aware of all those who are mentally ill or addicted, alone or grieving, or without supportive families; those whose Christmas prayer sounds more like Jesus words on the Cross, “My God, My God. Why have you abandoned me!”
As I think of all those who are struggling this Advent season, I am equally attuned to Mary’s challenge to “bring down rulers and send the rich away empty.” My guess is those who are struggling this Advent season find hope in Mary’s words – not because they have ill will toward those who have much – but because Mary’s implication is that they will be lifted up themselves. If the powerful are pulled down from their thrones and the wealthy sent away empty, then Mary’s words imply that those without power or wealth will be lifted up and filled.
No matter where you are on life’s journey, may you also find solace and hope in Mary’s words. May they provide you with an overwhelming sense of hope that Christmas morning really will come and that each of us have the power to bring it to others.
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Merry Christmas and New Year’s peace and blessings,