August 15, 2010: Mary, Mother of Our Lord
Advent in August?
The editors of Augsburg Fortress, from whom my church buys bulletin covers printed with the Lectionary readings, selected the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) for this coming Sunday. Huh? This was the same reading we heard last December, on the fourth Sunday in Advent.
Are they trying to take our minds off the record heat that’s been frying the East Coast like a hamburger on a grill? No. It just so happens that the Festival of “Mary, Mother of Our Lord,” which takes place Aug. 15, falls on a Sunday this year. And voila! The Magnificat!
I winced when I first saw the bulletin covers. But the more I read, the more my wince turned into a smile. Plucked from their usual Advent/Christmas context, the words of the Magnificat spoke afresh. After the hard-hitting reading from Luke last week, the Magnificat made more sense.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary begins, and her ecstatic prayer describes how God upended her world and put it topsy-turvy. The lowliest of maids is now the future mother of God incarnate. But it’s about more than just Mary. “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.”
Like many Christians, I always read those words as a sort of prediction of punishment that God will mete out against the rulers and the rich, probably in some future time when God’s will is fulfilled. But coming on the heels of the previous two weeks of Luke readings, it takes on a new meaning.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” Jesus said in last week’s Gospel, Luke 12:32-40. He continues: “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, your heart is also.”
Whoa. Really? Check it out! God gives us the kingdom. It is God’s good pleasure to do so. So why the instruction about possessions? If God gives us the kingdom, why can’t we take our cars, our boats, our vacation homes along? Jesus says no. We can have the kingdom, but not our treasure, too. And the more you have, the harder it will be to enter the kingdom. (Didn’t we hear that somewhere else?)
Mary bursts out her prayer because she gets it. She is in the Kingdom of God and is bubbling over with joy over the new reality. Like Alice through the looking glass, she’s in a strange new world of God’s favor. Mary is in the reality where weakness is strength, poverty is wealth, and the strong ones serve. It’s not some future place, but in her here and now.
Here’s the paradigm shift (for me, anyway): The Magnificat isn’t describing God’s future punishment for the powerful, the rich and the prideful. Rather, it’s describing the here-and-now reality that the rich, powerful and prideful just can’t get into the Kingdom of Heaven without some dramatic changes to their lives. Perhaps it’s an act of grace that God is casting the powerful from their thrones, scattering the prideful and sending the rich away empty.
Mary causes me to think of all the ways that I myself am powerful, prideful and wealthy — living as a white, male, educated professional person in the richest country the world has ever known. Is this God knocking me from my throne, scattering my pride and sending me away empty?
It’s not punishment. It’s grace, bringing us into the Kingdom, where we will finally “get it” and exclaim along with Mary: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. … The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.”
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