Today is the last Sunday of Advent. As we remember the story of the birth of Christ, we retell it in anticipation and expectation of his return to make all things new. In our cultural wars we talk of a war on Christmas, and yet as I read the scriptures I wonder if we should be talking more about the war of Christmas?
That sounds crazy – and it is. Yet when we listen the texts of today (and others of the prophets that we heard by the early Church as pointing to the coming of Jesus as Messiah) we seem to be missing out on the explosive world-transforming, turn-the-world right-side-up image that these words convey.
The text from 2 Samuel (reading all of 2 Sam 7:1-11 makes more sense) points back to the prophetic words that a descendant of the house (or line) of David would be the great promised ruler. What’s ironic in the text is that it starts with David longing to build a house (or temple) for God, and God in the ending building a house (or lineage) for David.
The section from Luke 1tells the story of the pregnancy of Mary. Visited by an Angel – or Divine messenger – she is told she qualified for a job that she never asked for. It seems ironic that the promised descendent of David would be born to a young, probably 13 or so, woman of little means and an ancient education. In his Annunciation, Leonardo da Vinci represents it with renaissance perfection, pushing out the messiness of the story to highlight the perfection of God’s sovereignty. Her response points to why God may have chosen her, and the special aspects she would bring as mother. The remainder of the text tells of the majestic power of who this unexpected child will be – a world changer, messing up our world so that it can be made right. This is God’s ultimate hope for the universe – for God’s creation – the work of his hands: a vision of peace, unity, togetherness, equality, justice and hope. It’s not just a pipe dream, envisioned on a cold winter evening….but the future towards which God is dragging our world, kicking and screaming, in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and in the life we live today through the new life to come in its completeness. Elizabeth gets it. Look at her response.
We hear these scriptures at a time in which their is great social unrest. The upheaval might be both above and just below the surface of what we see. Yet while there are marches, protests and vigils (shadowed with looting) in our city demanding justice, equality and a reversal of the way things are, the irony seems to be lost on us that one of the popular songs in pop culture (“The Hanging Tree” [lyrics] currently 15 on the Billboard Chart) sounds like a retelling of a lynching, placed in a story of dystopian revolution. I find myself wondering if maybe this song of Mary – the Magnificat – is more like The Hanging Tree, than like the symphonic representations of it that we regularly hear? Our tidy nativity scenes misrepresent the messiness present on the margins of this story of a desperate maiden of an oppressed people, who is told that she will give birth to a revolutionary king to come.
Questions for going deeper:
- What grabs your attention in today’s selections?
- How do you long for God’s vision of justice to be in our world?
- How are you called to messy spirituality?
- How is the story of Mary an invitation to us to be part of God’s turning-the-world right-side-up?