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Sunday, December 11, 2005


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 him
from 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 for ever.

Luke 1:46-55

This passage is sometimes known as the Magnificat, from the first word in the Latin translation. According to Luke's gospel, this is what Mary said when she visited her relative Elizabeth, while both of them were pregnant.

The song begins so joyfully that its subversive message is often overlooked. We want to rejoice in our savior who is merciful, who has done great things for us. We might be less thrilled with one who has "scattered the proud" and "brought down the powerful." We may be comforted by a Christ who has "filled the hungry with good things," but we might not want a savior who has "sent the rich away empty," especially those of us who live in wealthy nations.

God's values are not our values. Jesus did not come to make our lives easier or more comfortable, but to turn our world upside down. That's not the message we usually hear at Christmas time. We hear about the God who became flesh in order to save us. We hear how Herod was threatened by this news, but we don't hear the logical extension: The kingdom of God is a threat to all human authorities. In an age in which 1/3 of the global population calls themselves Christian, including many rulers of nations, including most of the richest people on the earth, we don't want a God whose desire is to turn the social order upside down.

Ultimately, though, it's not about what we want. God's justice is far superior to human injustice. The baby who was born to redeem the world was also born to inaugurate the kingdom of God "on earth, as it is in heaven." If that means overturning everything we think we have achieved, so be it.

Herod was so afraid of this child that he preferred to have the baby killed rather than to take the chance of losing his power. Years later the high priest Caiaphas would pursue the same strategy, with more success.

This child whose birth we celebrate when we sing, "Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes," is the same Jesus who would later say to the religious leaders, "The prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of you."

Frankly, I'd rather have the Jesus who preached about love, who healed the sick and the blind, who said his mission was to bring good news to the poor. I'm not so excited about the Jesus who warned his disciples that following his teachings might turn their own families against them. The thing is, it's the same Jesus.

It's been said that Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. Sitting here at my desk in my warm house, typing away at my computer after filling my belly, I'm not so sure I want to hear those words.



At 12/11/2005 5:17 PM, Blogger Monk-in-Training said...

On this the Rose Sunday of Advent, a more moving sermon I have not heard!

At 12/12/2005 12:46 PM, Anonymous Barry said...

Great! and now I have to preach this passage to one of the wealthiest congregations in town. Thanks a lot, I hope you will be around to help me with my resume next week.


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