Some people believe that God is in control of all that happens. They believe that God has a specific plan for each of our lives. Believing that everything that happens does so according to God’s plan gives comfort. There is a faith and a trust that comes with those beliefs in God’s master plan.
On the other hand, other people believe that humans have free will, meaning we are free to act as we choose. That means that sometimes we do things that are not of God’s will. Sometimes others do things to us that are not of God’s design. Sometimes whole nations do things that aren’t in keeping with God’s vision. Maybe, it’s harder to find comfort with a theology that is messy and people who are imperfect and a God who does not control every action in the world.
I think for those whose theology includes the all-controlling God- comfort and hope come more easily. I wonder for those whose theology points to a present but non-controlling God- I wonder if our theology is enough to carry us through difficult times and uncertainty.
Luke tells a story of a young girl facing difficult times and uncertainty. Luke’s character is not affluent; she is a peasant, and calls herself a ‘lowly servant.” Luke tells a story of a nobody- with no rights, no privileges, no voice in her culture, no security. Luke writes a story of vulnerable, tenuous, poor, and marginalized people, yet on Mary’s lips is a song of hope.
Luke tells his Jesus story as a continuing of Israel’s history. He includes in his telling a song sung generations ago by other women. To those who know their Jewish history/scripture, there is familiarity about his story: Elizabeth is an old barren lady – unexpectedly expectant – just like Abraham’s wife Sara that we read about in the first book of Hebrew scripture. Mary is a young woman whose song echoes another ancient voice of Hannah. Sara was well beyond childbearing years; she laughed when told she was expecting. Hannah was barren and had longed for a child for years. Elizabeth was too old for child-bearing. Mary had “not known a man.” Babies were an impossibility of all their circumstances. Into an old story – with familiar themes – is repeated another familiar message: welcoming a new thing that God does among us. God is bringing about new life in impossible circumstances, not by controlling all the character’s moves, but by inviting them into partnership.
This story takes place in the Judean hill country, in the homeland of the Jews. Six hundred years earlier the Jews were defeated and deported out of their land. Eventually, they returned to sacred ground, but seldom did they live there without foreign rule and occupation. First, Alexander the Great conquered the Palestine region. Then it came under Egyptian rule- then Seleucid. During that time, Torah scrolls were burned; circumcision was forbidden; Sabbath was outlawed; participation in religious festivals to the Greek gods was mandatory. Jews were forced to eat pork, and watch as their Jerusalem Temple to the God of Israel, was devoted to Zeus Olympias. Can you imagine, foreigners invading this land? Depriving us of all our religious rituals? Forcing us to worship their foreign gods in our houses of worship? Tumultuous times darkened the spirits and hearts of the Jewish people for a century and a half. When Mary sings her song, the Roman Empire has occupied and demoralized the people for 37 years – almost two generations. That’s a reason for hopelessness to settle in and take root. Into troubled times Elizabeth could have said, “I’m too old- what can I do?” Mary could have said, “I’m too young, what can I do?” Each could have said, “I’m only one, what can I do?” They could have hung their head, wrung their hands, and given-up in despair.
Two pregnant ladies of two different generations – and all they’ve ever known in political and social oppression, yet they both sing hope.
In Mary’s song, we hear her joy over God’s work of restoration. Interestingly, her song of joy about the coming birth of her son sings about what God has already done. In the past tense, she says, “…the proud humbled, the powerful pulled down from their thrones, those who are stuffed sent away empty-handed, those who are disempowered lifted up and those who are hungry filled with good things.” Mary describes the overturning of the current system of consumption and oppression and violence by the norms of God’s kingdom: mercy, justice, and love. And she sings for joy as if these things have already happened.
Mary sings, “My Soul Magnifies the Lord. My Spirit rejoices.” My soul magnifies – makes God’s vision more visible – because that’s what a magnifier does. A magnifier is used to enlarge and make visible that which might be hard to see otherwise. My soul magnifies – makes visible God’s HOPE. Therein lies the HOPE of our faith. Whether it is a God of ultimate control or a God who gives freedom into our lives, the HOPE our faith proclaims is in INCARNATION. God becomes embodied in human flesh. God is made visible by divinely human acts.
That was what Jesus came to do – to begin God’s work of making all things new, of setting right the wrongs and lifting the burdens we all carry. That’s why we celebrate Advent and Christmas. It is a time for us to focus our attention on God’s work in this broken world. It is a time of looking for what God is already doing among us. It is a time to celebrate the work of restoration God is carrying out in the human family – the whole human family. And it is a time for us to join that work.
In Advent we sing Immanuel because we look forward to something better than the violence and suffering and injustice all around us. We look forward to the kindness and generosity and compassion of our God being fulfilled for all the peoples of the world.
This song of hope is what enables us to look past our fears and our hurts and our suspicions and view those around us with God’s compassionate love.
This joyful faith is what gives us energy to sustain our love as we join in God’s work of transforming all creation by making a difference in our corner of the world because God is God, the ground of our being, the universal energy that flows through all things, the spinner of stars, spark of divine, indwelling Love.
So there is hope. Even in fears and uncertainties of political and social systems, there is hope because God’s love is incarnate is enfleshed. Emmanuel – God is with us – in Jesus of Nazareth and in each one here. This song is also called the Ode of the Theotokos, (Theotokos means God-bearer) It is a title for Mary and for us.
Hope is in incarnation, for we bear God into the world. Our lives magnify (make visible) God’s hope for the world. Through our acts of kindness, through our work for justice, through our caring and our sharing, in every good deed and every kind word God is with us -so there is hope.
May it be so.