s151g00 Somerton Park 24/12/2000 Advent 4
The Mighty One has done great things for me ... He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. Luke 1:49,52
May I first take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Christmass, both in my "real" congregation and my "virtual" congregation as well.
I thought I would keep my words to a minimum today, with Advent 4 being so close to Christmass tomorrow, but the thing that I want to share with you is the speed at which the words of the Magnificat travel from the personal to the global.
It is appropriate that Mary speak personally ... The Magnificat, the words of which have echoed down through the centuries, are of course a personal testimony "par excellence". Here the words of Mary (though some ascribe the words to Elizabeth) speak of what God has done for her personally.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord:
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
Who has looked with favour on his lowly servant:
from this day all generations will call me blessed;
The Almighty has done great things for me:
and holy is his name.
And God does continue to touch the lives of ordinary people. Each of us has had occasions when we have had those "mountain top" experiences, when it seems as if the world is our oyster ... And even in the ordinary and mundane parts of our lives there are the "little wins". I am sure I am not alone when I say of my experience, looking backwards often is when I have realised the guidance of God, at the time unseen and unheard, but real and effective never the less. And we, like Elizabeth and Mary are right to praise and extol God and seek to tell others of our joy.
But I wonder if we can look a bit more closely at those words of Mary, for Mary's words do not remain in the personal domain for very long at all.
Suddenly they turn from the personal to the global. It is not as if there is any transition. There is no human or divine agent which accomplishes this. It is not that either John the Baptist or Jesus were going to achieve this transformation. It has happened and the personal experience is an earnest of the bigger picture, of what is already happening all around us.
God has mercy on those who fear him:
from generation to generation.
The Lord has shown strength with his arm:
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones:
and lifting up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things:
and sent the rich away empty.
The actions of God, while they are but an example of God "lifting up the lowly", they are not lifted up solely for that particular person's edification. God does not have a spiritual elite, either lay or ordained, at the expense of others. This would be to replace one powerful person with another, to simply have a "changing of the guard". So Mary is not lifted up, to exalt herself above others.
So when God acts in our lives, likewise it is not for us, given power and authority to exact our revenge on those who have previously disturbed us. So when one listens to religious people speaking, and if it seems that no one else is lifted up, then something is seriously wrong. Or, put the other way, if we hear a religious person speaking and it seems as if other people are being put down, something is seriously wrong.
The Magnificat tells us in no uncertain terms that the kingdom of God is ever a global mission, not a personal experience for the favoured or the initiated. And it is a global mission of forgiveness and love for the widow, the orphan, the poor and the alien ... whoever they are, whatever they believe or not, whatever their manner of living. And we believe in Christianity only insofar as it reflects this global acceptance of other people - not for us to rule over others, or to put others down.
And I suppose an example of this is the feminist movement. It is right and good, indeed it is long overdue, that the status of women should be raised. It is also probably inevitable that "the pendulum will swing the other way" rather than come to the correct position first off. For the reality is that our patriarchal society has repressed women and it is hardly surprising that some feel the need to express their new found power. Of course there are still places where the status of women continues to be very low, where wives are considered a possession somewhere in importance between a house and a slave, so the fight necessarily goes on. But it would be sad if this became a "changing the guard" - when a whole new existence is envisaged, where real relationships replace power struggles.
And just as the paradigm that personal testimonies for individuals never exalts the individual above their peers, so too the proper witness of the Church never sets us, as Christians or members of the Church, up above our peers - either other christians, or over people of other faiths, indeed even over people of no faith. We too are not exalted to rule over others in place of them ruling over us, no matter how justified we might believe ourselves to be in doing so. We as Christians are called to be in a real relationship with others, with people of faith, people of other faiths as well as people of no faith, not to tip the scales of the power struggle "our way" for once. For the other reality is that Christianity has for so long been identified with patriarchal dominance, that it will be no wonder if new found freedoms (particularly for women) will be associated with the lessening influence of the Church.
And the final thought I would share with you, is that the first six lines are about the personal, the next eight lines are about the global. It is only in the last four lines that Israel is mentioned.
You have come to the aid of your servant Israel:
to remember the promise of mercy,
The promise made to our forebears:
to Abraham and his children for ever.
This serves to reinforce my earlier statements. Real needs of ordinary people, come before racial ancestry or faith communities. Indeed I suspect the experience of the ancient people of God, so often being the "David among the Goliaths" is the reason for God's election and special care.
And I point out that "Israel" and the descendants of Abraham are not the same group of people. The twelve tribes of Israel are descended from Jacob, Abraham's grandson, by Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah. The descendants of Abraham are rather greater, Isaac by Sarah, Ishmael by Hagar, and six other sons (including Midian) by Ketura (Gen 25.1) Isaac, his son had Jacob and Esau by Rebekah and Esau was the ancestor of Edom. So even the reference to Israel, includes them amongst their neighbours all of whom shared a common ancestry from Abraham.
We as Christians too are put amongst people, not to put them down if they don't don't share our racial makeup or ethnicity, not to put them down if they don't accept our faith or live up to our expectations. We are put amongst people to respect and care for them for God cares as much for those who don't know of the love of God just as much as those who do.
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