Mary’s Magnificat challenges us to bend our sight, to look both forward and backward. For without a vision of the future, without a messianic hope, we can only ever mourn the past—we can never envision its regeneration, a new heaven and a new earth.
Advent declares that the time has come upon us, that the King of Kings is about to arrive. The Advent claim that Jesus is Lord is a fundamental orienting claim for all of our politics.
Jesus teaches his disciples the meaning of waiting in a faithful manner. Keeping watch for God’s work within the world requires avoidance of distraction and a desperate faithfulness.
In Isaiah 42, the prophet speaks both of the vulnerability of a dimly burning wick and the great light of the world. Understanding the relationship between these two images can provide us with hope and insight as we seek justice in our situations.
The account of the slaughter of the innocents rests like a deeply unsettling shadow upon the Christmas story, with its themes of God’s peace and presence. Yet, in reflecting upon this account, we may discover a profound new conception of the mode of God’s presence within our world and its tragedies.
The story of the deliverance of Daniel’s three friends from persecution for their faith takes an unpleasant turn as a new form of religious oppression is set up as its immediate effect. Apparent victories are all too often co-opted by the vicious dynamics of the political systems that they appeared to have overcome. In Advent, however, we see a political rupture that can never be dissolved back into the prevailing power structures.
For three weeks now, I have been listening to Mary’s Magnificat sung as a part of the mid-week evening prayer service in my congregation. Last week, I leaned over to my five-year-old and told her, “This is the story of Jesus’ Mommy when she was pregnant with him.” Rereading a paper that I wrote on this text in college, I critiqued an over spiritualization of these words that are “a vivid proclamation of God’s eternal justice and intention to uplift the weak and lowly in a ministry of love…a call to social action on behalf of humanity.” Now, as I sit with the text, I can only say that it is all of this and more…
It is a challenge to reflect on politics and advent together. As advent emerges and we begin to anticipate the emergence of God’s presence into the world anew, as we expect the child who taught peace and preached liberation for the poor and oppressed, I cast my eyes on the political landscape and struggle to glimpse what might be breaking forth with new life. Perhaps this is a problem with how we conceptualize the birth of Jesus, as a grand cosmic event, an episode of a preordained salvation history, the inauguration of a new kingdom of peace on earth. There is another element to this extraordinary story, its ordinariness. Jesus is born in a Galilean backwater, to an unwed teen mother, lost in a crowd of travelers. Jeremiah prophesied to his ancient community about a time when justice and righteousness will emerge into history. We still await the fulfillment of this prophesy. But refracting this vision through the circumstances of Jesus’ birth will perhaps teach us to look for this hope in unexpected places…
Here we have one of the classic Advent themes associated with our preparations for the birth of Christ, but actually referring to John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus’ ministry 30 years later. I want to suggest an unorthodox and creative way of interpreting this text, one perhaps more in-keeping with the current context. We are inclined to ask ourselves “whose are the voices?” and “where is the wilderness?” I will reverse these questions in order to throw some light upon the nature of vocation and the reasons for the apparent frustrations of it.