By Nancy Neal
At my church, this Advent season, we’ve been lifting up stories of messengers of the faith: messengers of hope, peace, joy, and love. They have been stories of people who bear witness to life amidst death and tragedy; people who do good works in desperate situations. They are stories of young people, of courageous people, of deeply passionate people.
The gospel story for this fourth and last week of Advent shares the encounter of two such women: Mary and Elizabeth. As Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, hears Mary’s greeting, the child in her womb leaps, and she is immediately filled with the Holy Spirit. And she proclaims a blessing on Mary, the mother of her Lord, who has “believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Luke 1:39-45).
Mary, then brings a message of love in song, the Magnificat as we call it. The song begins with lavish praises for God, who has lifted her up out of her lowly and shameful state. A young, unmarried, pregnant woman, with little status in the will become the mother of God’s own son. She goes on to proclaim that God has not just done great things for her, but God has lifted the lowly, filled the hungry with good things, and helped God’s people Israel who are oppressed by the Roman Empire.
But not only does God lift up the lowly, but God scatters the proud, brings down the powerful from their thrones, and sends the rich away empty. It is a complete turning upside down of the order of the world. And not only does Mary proclaim that God will do this work through her son, but she proclaims that it has already been done.
In his blog, entitled “Christmas is a Revolution,” Robert Williamson Jr. writes, “But the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ reveals all of this social stratification to be based on a falsehood. God is not above us and beyond us, ruling over us from afar. God is there in Mary’s womb, as immanent to humanity as one can be. Being made in the image of this God can no longer mean separating ourselves from others in order to rule over them. It can only mean to become incarnate with others, lifting up others, restoring our common humanity.”
This is a message of love this Advent season. God incarnate, here walking among us levels the playing field, turns our attention from preoccupation with our status—lowly or proud or rich or shameful—to God’s love. And looking at the world through God’s eyes, we can’t help but to love the world around us.
Rev. Nancy Neal is interim director of the Church Relations Department at Bread for the World.