Sunday, December 20, 2009

Magnificat: My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord!

16 year-old Mary couldn't stay away from her new iPhone. One of the first texts she sent was to her cousin Elizabeth. It went something like this:

"LUV my new iPhone!!!! Joe just texted me and wants to get engaged!!!! Already got the diamond on sale. Mom and Dad said I could go on American Idol next year, and if I finish in the top 5 I don't have to finish high school! Got a 90% off shopping spree at Wal*Mart. Oh, and found out I'm 3 months pregnant. Joe's OK with it but wants to have the reception after the baby comes. Got three new piercings with my STUDZ gift card. Life just doesn't get better, Liz! Wish we had Christmas every week."

The Bible tells no such stories, except of foolish people who were detroyed by floods, famines, fire and brimstone.

So, is that what we're counting down for? The ad here says redemption means getting a $20 prepaid Visa card. Oh, and I thought... Well, never mind.

Luke 1:35-56. Maybe it's time to get past the cute baby version of the Christmas story and take a fresh look at the stage God has set. So we'll begin again with Mary who, once she has agreed to the terms ("May it be to me as you have said."v. 38), is speechless until she reaches the home of her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth recognizes in Mary's expression that something earth shaking is in progress.

Mary is both dead serious and energized at the same time. It is as though he has aged 40 years since Elizabeth last saw her eight months ago. Mary explains why:

1) My child will be called "Son of God". This could be dangerous. Caesar is known by the same title and wants the whole empire to acknowledge that. The Romans might try him for treason. He could be crucified.

2) My child will be known as "Savior". Caesar is known as "savior of the world". This won't go down well.

3) You and I aren't members of the priestly class and we don't even have family in Jerusalem. Whatever my child does, I doubt it will sit well with the priests and the temple in Jerusalem. They might declare our whole family to be blasphemers and heretics. We could be excommunicated, stoned.

4) My gut feeling is that whatever comes of my son's life, it will turn the world order upside down. Kings and powerful people will be toppled because of it. The world economic order wil be turned uipside down because God will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. Kings and rich people won't like that. What's good news to us will set them on fire.

5) I feel and sense all of these things, and all I can say in response is, "So be it, Lord. Thy will be done. My soul doth magnify the Lord." (I love that Jacobean English. It's so much more vivid than "My soul glorifies the Lord.")

After Mary and Elizabeth meet and greet, Mary paints a word picture in verse. We call it the Magnificat. That's actually the Latin verb declined to state, "My soul doth magnify".

Have you ever sat back and contemplated Mary's words? Really? Think about this. Read what Israel sang after crossing the Red Sea when Paharaoah's army was destroyed (see Exodus 15). Whenever the Old Testament records an historic event of earthshaking importance, the significance of the event is interpreted via a song or poem, something composed and read or sung so that the people could remember and retell the story.

Luke has done no less with the Magnificat. It says that what will occur with Mary trumps the Exodus, the 10 Commandments, the temple and the Torah combined.

Sit back and seriously consider the import of Mary's words. Were Caesar and Herod the only ones that need/needed to be put down from their thrones? Oh, and if the hungry are to be filled with good things and the rich sent away empty, what does that say to us today?

There are more poor people on earth than ever. There are more hungry people than ever. All while there are more rich people than ever who consume more of the earth's resources than ever. All while we have, here in the U.S. at least, two epidemics: obesity and diabetes, both occurring at alarming rates in young children.

Here in the U.S., we have backed away from and denied our role in the consumption of the wealth of the earth. We have wasted the last two decades, particularly the last one, living in denial. While we now complain that China is the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, we fail to recognize that much of what China makes we import. So much of their CO2 stuff really becomes OUR responsibility. We could choose to not buy things made in China, of course, but then what would we buy? It's so artificially cheap because we have always externalized the costs of industrial production. We can, for a while. But earth can't. Ever. We worship the golden calf of abundant, cheap stuff. Willingly.

The church has largely been complicit in this. While parts of Christianity have been very vocal in pushing the teaching of creationism in schools, I am stunned by the deafening silence of much of the church in the face of the wholesale destruction of creation before our eyes and within our lifetime. How can we simultaneously insist on a belief IN creation but in our daily consumption and in our waste have so little regard for the CREATION itself?

My hero, Lutheran pastor, theologian and professor, Joseph Sittler, once wrote:

I am not altogether certain how to respond to some of the great moral dilemmas of our time. But I am absolutely clear that there is such a powerful damnation existing in our time that if the church does not think and act on it, we call down rightful judgment on ourselves.

Sittler was most concerned about nuclear weapons and pollution, both of which pale and seem utterly simple by comparison to global warming and climate change. [Yes, climate changes all by itself, but generally rather slowly. We dare not be in the position of accelerating it or exacerbating it with our own actions (anthropogenic global warming). That's like mashing the accelerator of a car with no brakes and a very dirty windshield. Duh!]

If the church here in the rich world (where Mary's finger clearly points in the Magnificat) is complicit in the detruction of the very life support systems of creation on which all food production depends--because we are unwilling to reject our own belief in a prosperity gospel--we in fact condemn more people in our own day and far more in the days to come to hunger, poverty and untimely death. Not a very good way to say, "My soul doth magnify the Lord."

If we believe that Mary and God are not simply bluffing and talking through their hats, where are our words and the deeds to match our words? How can we in the church expect to be unfaithful to God's most basic insistence on unyielding support for the poor and the hungry and not expect to be swept away by God in favor of a new church that is faithful?

But it cannot be fretting over demise of the church we know or have known that motivates us. It can and must be the same concern as God's: loving our neighbors as ourselves. No more. Certainly not less. Luther talked about the invisible church. It's the only real one.

Here's a problem for too many of us today in prosperity land. Most of us now spend nearly our entire lives encapsulated in completely artificial and manufactured environments. We have been, within two generations, almost entirely segregated from creation itself.

We cannot love what we do not know, be that God's creation or our poor neighbors.

Christmas for me has become annually a time of increasing blessed unrest. Now I find that blessed unrest is actually a fairly good translation of a huge chunk of the occurrences of the word "peace" in the Bible.

Read the Magnificat. Read it slowly 10 times and ponder each statement in these last days of Advent. Continue to read it through Christmas and into the New Year. Peace on earth!

Blessed unrest!


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