Have you ever been amazed at what you thought you knew, only to find it might be otherwise? What kind of response did you offer? Denial of the new perspective, in spite of solid evidence presented? Anger toward the purveyor of the new word, recognizing he/she has challenged you in an area central to your self-understanding? Embracing the new so quickly and tightly that the old becomes a scoffing point, along with those who continue to hold that which you once believed in common? If the belief is ultimately insignificant, it might not matter. But what if it concerns something that really matters?
Today’s texts are among those which would be challenging to Israelites who first heard them. But they might also challenge some of what we think we know, particularly in the conservative wing of Christianity. Micah 4:1-5; Luke 1:46-55; Ephesians 2:11-22. The promise of a coming day; the dawn of its fulfillment; the extension of the promise to all mankind.
What, one may ask, is so different about this message? Haven’t we always spoken of God’s saving action in Christ? Haven’t we continually upheld the virgin birth, the divine AND human nature of Christ, and the holiness of God? Yes. But also no? What about scattering the proud and haughty, bringing princes down from thrones, exalting the lowly, satisfying the hungry, sending the rich away empty-handed? Are these concerns separable from God’s holiness and mercy extending from generation to generation, the mighty arm of the Lord doing tremendous things? Have we weakened the force, the shattering of pre-conceptions and preferred understandings and settled into a comfortable but powerless version of the faith?
Mary’s “Magnificat” has rung through centuries of Christian reading and song. It follows not too many verses after the quintessential expression of faith: I am the Lord’s servant; let it be done to me according to your word. What a far cry this is from some of today’s supposedly faithful expressions: I am God’s child; let it be done to me according to what I claim. God’s Christ brings down the rich; some desire to be among them. God’s Christ brings down the proud and haughty; some in His name exhibit those very traits. God’s Christ finds delight in giving good things to the poor; some prefer to heap abuse upon them, assuming all of them to lack redemption-worthy status.
When God’s concerns become ours we are ready for His coming. Until that time, we might wish to approach the coming of the Lord with a bit more caution.
There is cause for rejoicing. We have demonstrated repeatedly, through a very wide range of political, economic, and social arrangements, that as a race we are incapable of producing the kind of world in which justice and righteousness dwell securely. We sing “Joy to the World” because the Lord, who does make all things new, has come. And it remains for us and for the world to receive its rightful king. He is a king to receive, with all His authority over every structure and plan we might devise to fix the world or to secure our own place within it. He is not a means to our own ends. We come from different social, political, marital, and economic stations in life. But He rules the world with truth and grace—the whole world, including high and low, rich and poor. Faithfulness allows Him to do to each of us and with each of us who claim His name as He chooses. Just like an unsuspecting and unpretentious teen-age girl named Mary.