December 21, 2009

advent: fourth sunday reflection

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Better late than never, right?

Anticipating the arrival of the (un)King
This is my third (I skipped a week) in a series of Advent reflections this year. You can read the first one, along with some notes, here and the second here.

Fourth Sunday of AdventLuke 1:39-55
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

And Mary said,

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear himfrom generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

For Reflection
Mary knows how this story is to play out. Her people have long waited for a liberator–like Moses–to come and save them. Yet, they remain people of an occupied territory; a foreign oppressor, always present. This doesn't even account for the fact she herself is simply a peasant girl, unwed and pregnant. She doesn't know that when she arrives in her fiance's hometown, no family or friend will be able to put them up–they'll end up sleeping in a barn, her new born in a feeding trough. She doesn't know that her young family will end like fugitives on the run, immigrants in another land. She does know the stories of her people, of other women who would bare children in Bethlehem; this could go good, it could go bad.

In the midst of all of this, Mary prays a prayer; sings a song. It is a song that declares who God is to her. But she doesn't stop there. She declares who God is to the people. She probably does not understand everything that is happening. It is probably very unclear how–or even when–liberation will come to herself or her people. It may even seem naive in such circumstances but she hopes.

This idea of hope, better yet "faith" stands out here. But Mary's faith seems so much more real than so many today. For many, faith is something defined in either very personal or very social terms. These two ways of approaching faith grow further and further apart from each other, increasingly seeking to be the antithesis of the other. But Mary seems to first embrace God and through this finds herself squarely placed between an understanding of a good news that is coming, that is intended for the community and the individual.

Why is it that Mary lands in such a place? I think it's because she is resolved to the fact that she is not God. Some like the idea of a hyper-individualized faith because it offers us some control ("I may not know what is going to come of the world, but I know where I stand"). Some feel more comfortable with a liberal, social view of faith because it offers some connection to those things they would still otherwise be passionate about. We want to be in control. We want to be God. I don't think Mary did.

That said, Mary has little evidence that God would save her personally. She has even less evidence that God would save her people. But she trusts that God sees more than she does. She takes stalk in the age-old tale of her people that, "her offspring will attack [the Enemy's] head, and [the Enemy] will attack her offspring’s heel.” The promise isn't that it will be easy and without pain. The promise is that victory will come in the end.

And she believes it.

For herself and her people.

Do we?


NOTE: All of these have been refined from Sunday conversations with the beautiful people that make up the Hawthorn House. This is as much theirs as it is mine.

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