Monday, December 16, 2013

The Great Advent Scandal

Dom Helder Camara, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."

For the last couple of weeks, I've had the Magnificat on my mind- Mary's song in Luke 1.36-46, which she sings after receiving the news of her miraculous (yet scandalous) future.  Mary was a lowly peasant girl, living in a man's world.  Many scholars believe her to be a young teenager at the time.  Most of us wouldn't have trusted her to baby-sit our children, yet here God is placing the redemption of all creation in her womb.  Mary runs off to see her old aunt Elizabeth, who is dealing with an impossibility of her own.  It's a magnificent scene of unthinkable impossibilities becoming reality.

And so, Mary bursts out in song.  She praises God for choosing her in her low estate.  She celebrates a God who lifts up the humble and brings down the proud.  She claims that this God will feed the hungry and send the rich away empty handed.  It reads, not like a normal Christmas carol, but like a song of social subversion and reversal.  To be sure, some people spiritualize this text and others dismiss it altogether, but the gospel of Luke doesn't allow you to do that.  In Luke's gospel, salvation has EVERYTHING to do with economics, and while Jesus was concerned with more than money, he wasn't concerned with less.  In Luke 4, Jesus returns to Nazareth and proclaims good news to those who seem far removed from good news:  the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed.   He was reading from the prophet Isaiah, but you get the feeling this truth could have easily been transmitted through the umbilical cord.  In the sermon on the plain in Luke 6:17-49, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor" (not the poor in spirit as in Matthew), and he says "woe to the rich."  Compassionate justice seems to be the core issue of the story of the rich man and Lazarus (see Luke 16:19-31), and salvation comes to Zaccheus' house shortly after he claims to right fiscal wrongs (see Luke 19:1-10).  Social and economic justice are front and center in the gospel of Luke.  Mary is simply the first one to give voice to it.

Just last week, a political talking head accused the pope of being a Marxist because of his concern for the poor and his call for economic justice.  But it's not Marx who prompted the Pope to call for justice.  It's Mary, Luke, Jesus and the long line of saints from Ur of the Chaldeans to Rome to Little Rock to cities across the world who believe that God's Kingdom is an alternative reality indeed.  Mary's song also indicts those who so quickly cry about an imagined "war on Christmas," but are so slow to see that our blatant social injustices are more of an affront to this season than any, "Happy Holidays," greeting from the 18 year old girl working the Target check out line.

Truth be told, whenever I hear sweet little Mary singing her song, I can almost feel the ground rattle under my feet.  Some people, whose only lens is politics, will claim this song is scandalous.  Others, whose imaginations have been suffocated by "reality," will claim this song is impossible.  Maybe it is.  But so is the pregnant virgin singing it.

1 comment:

jesusandthebible said...

Luke's second volume, Acts, shows how this impossible kingdom became a reality, as Jesus' disciples, in the power of the Spirit Jesus gives them, continue Jesus' mission by speaking boldly to the people (and their leaders, who crucified Jesus), telling to repent, which leads those who join them to focus on continuing Jesus' teaching and generous sharing among the poor.