“Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution”
Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
This week’s readings are the stuff of revolution, and Mary the mother of Jesus is the most radical of them all. We are making our way through Advent and sinking deeply into the visions of change that are found in both the Hebrew prophets and the gospels. It is all about change.
Background on this weeks readings:
Here is another of Isaiah’s great visions of the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile. Isaiah is in three sections and although this is part of the second section, scholars suggest that it was probably originally within the last section, which is filled with hopeful visions of the restoration of the nation.
But this vision does not begin in the nation. Rather it begins in the wilderness. The desert sands are the first to feel the relief of God’s blessing. Water in the wilderness was such a strong image of relief for a desert dwelling people. But then the prophet moves to the personal: those with weak hands, feeble knees, fearful hearts. There will be relief for the returning exiles. And finally after another poetic description of relief for the land, he turns to the nation. A highway, the Holy Way will be built, and it will be a safe way for everyone to stream to Zion.
In Advent, the readings often flip from waiting for the ancient vision of restoration to be fulfilled, to the early Christians waiting for the return of Jesus. Here, in James we have the latter, in a message of patience. Unlike some of the more wild apocalyptic approaches, James takes a much more evolutionary approach to waiting. As a farmer waits for the crop to be ready to harvest, so it is as we wait for Christ. There is a slow, evolving process going on- one of maturing, growing, ripening. And then, according to James, the time will come when Christ shall return. But in the meantime, use the farmer’s kind of patience.
And in our gospel reading, I have chosen the optional reading from Luke which includes Mary’s Song, the Magnificat. As the story is told, Mary has received an angelic visitation during which she was told that she is pregnant, and that this child would be especially blessed by God. Her cousin Elizabeth has also become pregnant in a miraculous way, and Mary goes to visit her sister. When she arrives, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps and Elizabeth, in a moment of ecstasy, pronounces Mary blessed among women. The reading for today is a revolutionary poem Mary is said to have spoken.
It may feel odd that these people seem to speak in poetry and ecstatic pronouncements, but remember, this is epic story telling, and this particular reading is very reminiscent, if not quoting from Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2:1-10) when she has discovered she is miraculously pregnant.
But hear also the content of the song. This is political stuff, and the stuff of revolution. The poor are lifted the powerful dethroned and (my favourite line) the proud are scattered in the imaginations of their hearts. The hungry are given good things and the rich are sent away empty handed.
These readings have always been come of the most inspirational texts in the Bible for me. I am a big picture person and I like change, so I am inspired by these visions of change. Frankly I struggle to imagine Mary waxing so poetically when she greets her sister, but as the gospel writers told the story, the visions inspired by the coming of Jesus harkened back to the ancient visions both of returning exiles and of ancient mothers of the faith like Hannah. Clearly Jesus, his teaching, his presence, and the way his life bore witness to God’s liberation and life for us all touched a deep chord of longing for change in everyone, and continues to touch that chord in us. Imagine how things could be different.
I am particularly drawn to the way Isaiah grounds the vision for change in the earth. The very creation will be different. Imagine if you were a returning exile coming home from the north, and you see the desert blooming. What would that do to your heart and mind? What kind of hope and joy would that evoke in you? What kind of hope and joy does it evoke in you today?
1. All these readings speak to our longing for things to be different. What changes do you long for? In your life? In your community? In the world?
2. Mary’s vision is one of revolution in which the hungry, poor, broken find restoration, and the rich, well fed and whole are taken down a few pegs. How does this vision strike you? Do you believe in revolution?
3. James talks about change in a more gentle way, using the image of farming. The evolutionary way. How has God worked in your life so far? Through revolution or evolution?
Just for kicks, here is the latest link for the Advent Conspiracy.