The ‘songs’ of Mary and Zechariah, just before Jesus’ birth, are both blatantly political.
These two poems (“songs”) (Luke 1:46-55 & 67-79) are important – they serve as Luke’s “Preface” to the life and work of Christ. So we can expect them to give us a good idea of what Jesus will be about, and thus of what God cares about, that is, what God is working on. It is also important that the ideas in these two songs fit well with the ideas in other “Prefaces” to the life and work of Christ. These are not odd, minority ideas in the Gospels, a fact shown by:
- the remarks of Anna and Simeon in the temple shortly after Jesus’ birth,
- the teaching of John the Baptist just before Jesus moved into public ministry,
- and Jesus’ own remarks in Nazareth which Luke presents as the kick-off of Jesus’ ministry.
God’s Values – God’s Agenda through Jesus
Its quite interesting that Mary stresses so strongly
- her “humble state,”
- those who “fear him,” and that God’s blessings and help are coming to
- the humble,
- the hungry,
- and “his servant.”
Why emphasize that downer, depressing stuff – “humble“, “hungry“, etc.?
And she makes it explicit that the Lord WILL:
- scatter those who are proud in their inmost thoughts,
- bring down rulers from their thrones,
- and send away empty those who are rich.
Do you suppose she was accused in her day of encouraging “class warfare”?
Today, if you complain about “the rich” or the “rulers” or the arrogant, you may well be accused of class warfare. Zechariah, in the same chapter, touches on similar themes as Mary, so she is not an abberation. Thinking about it – here’s a brief, personal, contemporary prayer in response to Mary and Zecariah’s prayers:
Thank You, God, for that simplicity and justice – for being, creating, and defending the truest a priori values. In order to enforce that (Your ‘truest a priori values’) there will be required the scattering and bringing down and sending away that Mary foresees. Thank You that You are willing to say it out loud.
Zechariah speaks of “our enemies.” Do we have enemies?
– that is, people who will certainly harm us if they get the power – who perhaps even vigorously hate us? There are people quite willing to hurt us if it suits their agenda, even if they do not actively hate us. Zechariah sees the Coming One freeing us from such threats, from such violence of word and deed.
Evangelicals today like to talk about being persecuted or having their religious freedom interferred with; but they carefully avoid any talk of trouble coming for the wealthy and for rulers. Still, that’s what Mary and Zechariah bring up. We should ask, “What does this kind of talk – Mary’s song, and Zechariah’s song – have to do with anything American “Evangelicals” care about?” We are often told just to take this all as being about “spiritual” help, not worldly things.
I expect this passage seems embarrassing or at least confusing to many “evangelical” Christians today.
After all, what do the words of Mary, Zechariah, John the Baptist, Simeon, and Anna have to do with:
- salvation by praying to receive Christ,
- eternal life,
- growing huge churches
- taking over branches of the government and other large social institutions,
- or hating gays, liberals, unbelievers, immigrants, and refugees?
Still, Mary and Zechariah clearly intended their remarks to be taken straight, like strong medicine
God is the greatest power, and the original creator and lover of humans. Do we imagine God has no concern about how worldly powers treat this awesome creation – especially other humans?
The spiritual, social and physical worlds all interpenetrate each other. The spiritual is realized in the physical and relational. Mary and Zechariah saw that clearly, and expressed it well. It shows in the last paragraph of Zechariah’s ‘song.’
“And you (John the Baptist) will … give [God’s] people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”
So John‘s work, which is done BEFORE Jesus goes public, is to bring realization of salvation through forgiveness. It is the PREPARATION for the work of Jesus, which Zechariah expresses as “to shine … and to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Thus the sequence Zechariah sees is that
- FORGIVENESS enables
- a productive CONNECTION WITH CHRIST
- which gives us GUIDED FEET (changed life paths)
- and PEACE, that is “shalom” (“peace and prosperity”).
This is the same dynamic that James references: “I will show you my faith BY my works.”
These are very great and precious goals that Mary and Zechariah see – very great and precious projects that John and Jesus were going to pursue. The work is obviously not completed yet, but it also has obviously been working in many lives throughout history and in the world today. The heart of God is FOR us, as represented to us by Mary and Zechariah
This God of the Christmas story UNDERSTANDS what goes on in this world.
God’s heart is FOR us, and FOR this suffering and self-destructive race.
Mary and Zechariah’s politicized Christmas carols make this bluntly clear. We should not be afraid to embrace that.
- New Year’s Resolutions – The Work of Christmas Begins (Howard Thurman)
- Two Types of Religion – Authority and Love
- Are Economic Matters a Moral Issue? Isaiah Thinks So!
- Jesus and Racism
- Category: Holidays
- Category: The Kingdom – Isaiah 58 – Sermon on the Mount
- We Must Lift Our Voices While We Lay Down Our Swords – No Religious Bullies
- If You Do Not Love Your Neighbor – Whom You CAN See – Can You Love God?