Saturday, December 10, 2011

Mary’s song for those in the middle

Luke 1:46b-55

Today’s psalm is the text from Luke we call Mary’s Song, the Magnificat. In Latin, the song begins magnificat anima mea dominus -- in other words, my soul magnifies the Lord. Mary sings this song as she meets with her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with the child who will be known as John the Baptist. Mary and Elizabeth share the joy and burden of bearing children chosen by God for God’s special purposes.
Mary praises God for bringing the world a new order of right-ness. In this new world order, there is plenty for everyone, and no one has too much. Everyone has enough to eat, enough of whatever they need to thrive in their community. More importantly, no one has too much; especially no one has too much power over anyone else. Justice is administered fairly to all. Those who have too much power will be toppled from their positions.
What do you think of when you read and hear this passage? If you are a poor person, an abused or oppressed person, you cheer loudly and shout, “Bring it on! It’s about time for some good news.” If you are among the wealthy and powerful, you feel threatened and become defensive. You state very firmly, “No way!” and “Over my dead body!”
Most of us are somewhere in the middle. We have enough to be comfortable, don’t often feel oppressed, and know we can make choices for ourselves. So, we feel a bit like outsiders when we hear this text. It doesn’t seem to apply to those of us in the middle. But, maybe it does apply to us, after all. Perhaps the goal of this song is to urge us into action, to make sure there are no inequities anywhere.
In the 1960’s, the Civil Rights movement was a powerful expression of the need to end oppression for African American people. Especially in the south, but not just in the south, Black people had very little power. Separate drinking fountains, the least desirable places on the bus, little access to good education and libraries, limited access to decent jobs and livable wages, lynchings and obviously unjust trials. Amazingly, African Americans still sang praises to God, while at the same time begging for relief from such oppression.
Whether you agree or disagree with the Occupy Movement in the US today, it reminds me of the Civil Rights Movement. Today’s mostly non-violent demonstrations call for justice in the banking and financial arena, and reform in the ways elected politicians run the country. The sometimes violent response to the Occupy Movement also reminds me of the response to non-violent Civil Rights demonstrations. Those in power are working hard to retain their power over those who have a lot less power.
Mary’s Song encourages us to take action to ensure that all people have access to justice in all aspects of life. We all experience injustices – whether they are perceived or actual – just about every day. Someone zips into the last parking space at Winn Dixie from the wrong direction; someone complains that they have been waiting longer than we have to see the doctor; our neighbors have walked away from paying the mortgage on their house on our street so they could get a new one at a bargain price; our new boss is more of a jerk than the last one; the amount in our pension account continues to drop as the stock market struggles to recover.
We also have at least as many opportunities to offer justice to others. We can let a mom with small children go ahead of us in the grocery check-out line; we can open the door for someone else; we can say, “God bless you,” instead of the words we want to speak to certain drivers on the highway; we can purchase items for the needy families we have sponsored for Christmas; we can write letters to our congresspersons asking for justice and reform; we can notice when something isn’t fair, and seek to do something about it.
I want to read this text from Luke again, and as you hear it, I invite you to open your heart to let God speak to you. When does your soul proclaim God’s greatness? How could the hungry be filled with good things? Who needs to hear this promise of mercy?

Luke 1:46b-55 (From Words for Worship, copyright 2011 Augsburg Fortress. )

46bMy soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
          47my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your lowly servant.
          From this day all generations will call me blessed;
49you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
          and holy is your name.
50You have mercy on those who fear you,
          from generation to generation.  
51You have shown strength with your arm;
          and scattered the proud in their conceit,
52casting down the mighty from their thrones
          and lifting up the lowly.
53You have filled the hungry with good things,
          and sent the rich away empty.
54You have come to the aid of your servant Israel,
          to remember the promise of mercy,
55the promise made to our forebears,
          to Abraham and his children forever.