Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:39-55
During our second advent we reflected on the strange ways in which God works. When God wanted to issue an announcement concerning the great new salvation for the whole world, he chose neither emperor Tiberius nor Caiaphas the high priest but instead chose a rugged prophet from the margins in the desert to announce the news and call people to prepare the way for Lord’s arrival through baptism and repentance.
That same theme continues on this fourth advent, which is also our Christmas message. In our Old Testament text, prophet Micah announces the coming of a ruler. Like our Second Advent message, this ruler comes neither from Jerusalem nor from one of the larger tribes of Israel but from the little known Bethlehem from one of the little tribes of Judah. These circumstances indicate the ruler’s humble and insignificant roots. These humble roots reminds us that the insignificant ones in the eyes of the world may indeed be God’s messengers or servants charged with the great purpose of the creation’s redemption. These messengers, therefore minister in the strength of the Lord and their own strength is not a pre-condition for their calling.
In the Luke passage, the same story is told about the choice of instruments God made in this particular case a barren old woman and a young engaged virgin. Among the Luo people of East Africa, which is my tribe, if an unmarried girl got pregnant traditionally, she was sent to spend time with her aunt until the baby was born with the hope that while she was there, she would get married. Growing up in that culture, the story of Mary and Elizabeth was sort of a normal story because it was the standard cultural practice. However, as I have come to read this gospel story in its entirety with different sort of eyes and experiences, I have marveled at the story all the more.
Here were two pregnant women, whose pregnancies came about under strange circumstances; Elizabeth was a barren old woman and Mary was an un-married teenager. When the angel delivered the message to Zachariah that his old barren wife was to have a baby he did not believe and he was stricken with dumbness until the child was born. Mary on the other hand was a young engaged teenager who had not yet “known” a man (no sexual intercourse). These are indeed two strange and baffling circumstances. Mary and Elizabeth each found perhaps the only other person who could possibly understand each other’s experiences in these unusual circumstances. In each other, they found not just understanding, not just hospitality; in one another, they found a common story. Together these women and their unborn babies proclaim the advent of the Lord. They are therefore living signs of the Great Revolution: two women, insignificant in the eyes of patriarchal culture —one old, one young; one barren, one still a virgin; neither possessing any particular dignity nor power and yet the first to recognize the embodiment of God in human life.
Introducing the theme of God’s impending salvation through the reversal of social structures is clearly a call to the church to participate in this reordering as well. This means a call to live out the implications of accepting a God who defines Himself in terms of the weak and oppressed, who has chosen to work in the world among teenagers and barren women. Our task is to believe the newness and embrace it as a defining characteristic of what it means to be faithful to God.
To embrace this newness is to confess with Mary in joy, faith, and submission that “the Mighty One has done great things for me.” It is to acknowledge that the powers of this world are not the powers that matter most, and that God is the great leveler of all human structures of power that oppress and control. It is He who brings down the exalted and elevates the lowly. We are called to nothing less than to view the world in terms of that potential of God’s ordering of worth and value, not in terms of our own ordering of worth and value.
The message here for people today can be liberating. In many cultures in the world and to a lesser extent here, the social and cultural ordering of power that marginalizes women and children is reversed in the story of Jesus as we see in Mary’s song.
But the issue here is not really specifically about gender. It can be applied to anyone who has been marginalized by society, by culture, even by the church. For some, it may be a message that offers newness in the midst of racial or economic discrimination. For some, it may mean a message of newness from a wheelchair or a nursing home, or in the midst of grief or loss, or barrenness of body or soul. For some, it may be a message that God’s criteria of value and worth goes beyond conformity to certain set standards or definitions of truth or paths to salvation defined by self proclaimed defenders of truth. It is a message that God does some of his best work with powerless people whose lives are defined by the world as impossible!
The newness of this passage is the newness that promises a new future to people who have no future. This message is a message of hope that suggests, even promises, that the “powers that be” are no power at all, and that the only power worth believing in comes from God through the Holy Spirit to those who accept the invitation to be in God’s plan of redemption. Will you accept this message today? May Mary’s song be your song as well this Christmas!!