So for most of this month I’ve been reading for a sermon series for January. I’m wrestling through the book of Acts, which as you probably already know is the sequel to the book of Luke. I’m also doing some teaching for a Christmas series for our young adults…It’s amazing how well these two topics go together.
One of the most disappointing things about Acts for me is the way we’ve read it throughout the years. The fellowship that I grew up in had a pretty narrow idea of what Acts was about. We approached Scripture asking questions that it wasn’t trying to answer (which didn’t stop us from squeezing out some answers). We asked it what kind of church we should have for one hour out of the week. Or what kind of programs we should run.
But the more I read this book, the more I realize that there is a deep power in here that is little talked about.
And it all starts with a single mom.
When I used to hear people talk about Mary, I would immediately think about what she wasn’t. Like most Protestants, it was easier to write her off as just some obsolete character. But there is a reason that God tells her that she will be called “blessed” for all generations.
Mary, as an unwed teenager is approached by an angel. Which is enough to make most Bible characters pee their pants. But she isn’t so much afraid of the angel, as she is about his message: “The Lord is with you.”
Because she knows what it means to say that the Lord is with you. Some of the worst plot twists in Scripture are preceded by that promise. In the Old Testament, a guy named Joseph (not Mary’s husband) gets betrayed by his brothers, sold into Egyptian slavery, put into prison, and the refrain through the entire chapter is: “The Lord was with him.”
So these are not exactly comforting words.
But then Mary takes heart, girds up her loins, and sings.
But this is no lullaby. This is a girl who’s got a fire in her belly, not to mention the Messiah, and now she’s starting to get the picture about how big what God is up to actually is. So she sings about the things that YHWH has done in the past, and about the victories that he has won. She sings about how faithful He has always been, and how he cares for the “least of these.” She sings of God’s power, of his mercy, of his justice.
And all of this is before Mary has seen God do one single thing that she’s singing about.
Mary is hoping forward. To a better world, that is literally giving birth right inside of her.
And the rest of the story Luke is writing is about the people of God putting skin on Mary’s song.
Did you know that in some South American countries, the Magnificat is forbidden to be sung? It’s because tyrants know the danger of singing a song like this. Did you know that is South Africa Christmas songs were illegal during the era of apartheid?
I think it’s because the unjust systems of the world know something that we don’t. That the advent season isn’t just about tinsel, lights, and good deals at Wal-Mart. There is a revolutionary bent to this story. That God is up to something new and just and beautiful.
And we call it Christmas.