Off the Wall for 24/12/14
As we become consumed by the hustle and bustle of the festive season – buying and wrapping gifts, organising Christmas lunches and the like, please take a moment to ponder the deeper significance of the event we are celebrating.
This is the time set in the Christian calendar when those in the Christian communities celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christ, whom we believe to be the incarnate God. His birth is celebrated because of his act of atonement for the sin of all humankind during his crucifixion and his resurrection.
The birth of this child was seen as a threat to the status quo. Shortly after his birth he and his family were forced to flee political oppression and become refugees in Egypt.
Last Sunday, I preached at Wesley City Mission in Butt Street, across the road from the Fiji Rugby Union headquarters and also from where this newspaper is published. Our responsive reading and part of the revised common lectionary was Luke 1:46-55, the song of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. It is known as the “Magnificat”.
The title "Magnificat" derives from the opening line of the Latin Vulgate's translation: "Magnificat anima mea Dominum," which means "my soul magnifies the Lord." The Magnificat is such a beautiful prayer that the Roman Catholic Church uses it every day at Evening Prayer, in the Liturgy of the Hours. It perfectly summarizes Mary’s faith and trust in God. It is also the longest direct quote from any woman in the New Testament.
According to Dr. E. Stanley Jones, the great Methodist scholar and preacher the Magnificat is “the most revolutionary document in the history of the world.”
That’s quite a statement considering the many revolutionary documents in the 2000 years since its origin. However, centuries before Dr. Jones made that statement, William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, instructed his missionaries in India to never read The Magnificat in public when unbelievers were present. Why? Because in a country like India with its abject poverty, this portion of Scripture, taken out of context, could incite riots, even revolution.
Geldenhese, a Dutch theologian, said that the Magificat “announces powerful revolutionary principles.” Murrow, another theologian, talks about the “revolutionary germ” found in the Magnificat. Barclay, an English theologian, says that the Magificat is “a bombshell.” Barclay goes on to say that people have read it so often that they have forgotten its “revolutionary terror.” It takes “the standards of the world and turns them upside down.” Barclay teaches that in the Magnificat, there are three revolutions: “an economic revolution; a political revolution; and a moral revolution.
Still another author says that the Magnificat “terrified the Russian Czars.” Martin Luther, the father of the Prostestant Reformation, says that the Magnificat “comforts the lowly and terrifies the rich.” Gilmore said that the Magnificat “fosters revolutionaries in our churches.” He says that “the Church needs the leaven of discontent, and the Magnifcat makes the church restive against poverty and wretchedness.”
In the Women’s Bible Commentary, author Jane Schaberg writes: “The Magnificat is the great New Testament song of liberation — personal and social, moral and economic — a revolutionary document of intense conflict and victory.”
Mary begins her Magnificat with her personal experiences and soon passes on to identify herself with the whole human race. Mary is fully aware that Christ's redemptive mission extends to all of Creation.
Edward F. Markquart writes, “The Magnificat is God’s revolution. The Magnificat is the charter, the document, the constitution of God’s revolution. The Magnificat is the basic, fundamental document. You don’t change the constitution. I saw the Magna Carta, the real thing, in a museum in London. That Magna Carta is the fundamental document on which freedom is based in English society. So also, the Magnificat is God’s charter; it is God’s Magna Carta. That document lays down the fundamental principles of the Christian revolution.”
Markquart continues, “In the Magnificat, God totally changes the order of things. God takes that which is on the bottom; and God turn everything upside down, and puts the bottom on top and the top on the bottom. God revolutionizes the way we think, the way we act, and the way we live. Before God’s revolution, we human beings were impressed with money, power, status and education. We were impressed with beauty, bucks and brains. But God revolutionizes all of that; God totally changes all of that; God turns it upside down. The poor are put on the top; the rich are put on the bottom. It is a revolution; God’s revolution. The Magnificate clearly tells us of God’s compassion for the economically poor; and when God’s Spirit gets inside of Christians, we too have a renewed compassion and action for the poor. Our hearts are turned upside down.
For those of you who have never read the Magnificat, here are those simple but powerful lines from The Message translation:
I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
As we celebrate Christmas, may we also celebrate the significance of the birth of a spiritual, moral, economic and political revolution – in our lives and in the world in which we live.
Merry Christmas! Welcome to the real revolution!
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”.