Advent is a time of year where we live in anticipation. We anticipate sales and movies and seasonal beverages and marketers tell us the importance of being cozy. The Danish have a word for all this – hygge. Hygge is all of the cozy and happy and family and favorite things we have during this season. Think about your most comfortable sweater in front of your favorite fireplace with a nice beverage.
Christian faith is about living in anticipation, so in the advent season, we create traditions to further build this special anticipation. There are many ways to celebrate advent, some folks have years-old family traditions. Our anticipation is built around living in this tension of already but not yet. We have already received the anticipation of Christ being born, but we are not yet at the point where he has returned.
In our anticipation, we are not too far from those in the Old Testament. Malachi, the last minor prophet we see record of, was living a world that was broken – it didn’t have the already, just the not yet. In a time where there was pain and sorrow and if you read through Malachi, the whole text is just God being upset. But then he says “but those that I love, those that are my people, I will take care of my people,” and this is the last thing we see in the Old Testament. So we see some small hope in this time of mourning and darkness.
And then Romans take over Jerusalem (and all of Judea). And we skip forward a few years to this tiny, forgotten village on the edge of Roman-controlled Judea. In this small, middle of nowhere village is a young girl named Mary.
Scholars think that the name Mary comes from Miriam, a name which is associated with rebelliousness. One thought is that it could be rebellion against a system that made her the lowest, weakest, least likely candidate to be called on by God. Historically, our art tends to depict Mary with soft lines, this sweet subordinate who goes along with the plans that have been set before her. But I see her as someone who fought in the name of rebellion against a broken world for a righteous God.
Noted author-blogger Rachel Held Evans writes that “God could very well use someone like her—an unmarried teenage girl, a minority in an occupied territory at a turbulent time in history— to bring the Messiah into the world in the most unceremonious way…”
In biblical history, we see this line of women who begged and pleaded with God because they wanted children and could not get pregnant. Three generations – Isaac, Jacob and Joseph who were promised but unexpected. Then we see the mother of Samson who doesn’t even get named (probably because of the patriarchy).
And then we have Hannah, mother of Samuel. In Hannah’s story, we see stylistic parallelism to the story of Mary – when God promises children, he fulfills that promise and it shapes the course of the people of God. Hannah’s son Samuel brought light and order to Israel by anointing David, God’s chosen king for the country. Similarly we see Mary’s son Jesus is sent to lead our way to God.
After Hannah receives Samuel, her promised son, she has to hold up her end of the bargain – giving him up to the broken and corrupt temple system to serve God. And she should be sad, because she is giving up her only child. Instead, she is praising God.
The text of Hannah’s song has significant structural similarities and features stylistic parallels to Mary’s song.
20thCentury Methodist theologian Eli Stanley Jones said that the Magnificat “…is the most revolutionary document in the world,” and as such, this text has been banned in many countries – it was banned during the British rule over India, in Guatemala in the 1980s, during a military rule in Argentina, a group of mothers who had children disappear realized they were not the only parents missing children so they got together to protest the military government using text from The Magnificat.
Martin Luther said “[The Magnificat] comforts the lowly and terrifies the rich.” It should terrify all those who hold power and wield it carelessly for the sake of holding power – and that power could be position, economic ability, geographic privilege, military advantage, emotional manipulation.
The Magnificat is the first celebration of advent, the first time moving towards the celebration of Christs birth was happening. It’s this incredible revolution in a broken world. This is the first Christmas carol, or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “The song of Mary is advents oldest hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. It is a song about the power of god and the powerlessness of mankind”
Broderick Greer writes about the Magnificat as “a song that speaks of God favoring the oppressed, dethroning the powerful, elevating the lowly, and sending the wealthy away empty-handed.” It is a message of hope for an oppressed people and an act of radical obedience and trusting God.
My hope is that in this advent season would be that in this time of waiting, and longing that we feel this heightened joy of anticipating. That we lead with our words and actions to point those around us to the joy that is Christ. But not just the joy, the utterly profound world shattering rebellion that is relationship with him.