Text: Luke 1:39-56
Earlier this year, St. Matthew in the City church in Auckland, New Zealand commissioned this painting, entitled "Mary in the Pink" for an annual billboard campaign. The media release statement about the image says:
"This billboard portrays Mary, Jesus’ mother, looking at a home pregnancy test kit revealing that she is pregnant. Regardless of any premonition, that discovery would have been shocking. Mary was unmarried, young, and poor. This pregnancy would shape her future. She was certainly not the first woman in this situation or the last... Although the make-believe of Christmas is enjoyable - with tinsel, Santa, reindeer, and carols - there are also some realities. Many in our society are suffering: some through the lack of money, some through poor health, some through violence, and some through other hardships. The joy of Christmas is muted by anxiety." (via)
St. Matthew's church got it exactly right. Advent is a time of hope, love, joy, and peace, to be sure, but these are also muddled by fear, pain, injustice, and yes, anxiety. We hear it in so many advent carols sung in minor keys. Like my favorite, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Throughout Christian history, we have known that the reason we hope for a savior at this time is because there are places in the world that need saving. Or perhaps more accurately, we feel like there's nothing we can do on our own; we need God's help to sort it out.
I traveled recently to Palestine and Israel with an interfaith group - a reform synagogue and a UCC congregation, plus a Roman Catholic monk, a Sufi teacher, and me, a United Methodist Seminarian - to talk with peace activists on all sides of the conflict. We visited refugee camps, picked olives in the West Bank with Palestinian villagers who had been tormented by Israeli settlers, toured the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron where worshipers were gunned down by a fundamentalist Zionist, and met with Israelis who live on the border with Gaza, facing daily fear that their home will be bombed. As we prepared to come home, our group was met with a profound sense of helplessness.
We need a savior, I catch myself thinking. And it's true, Christian theology tells us that Jesus is the hope of the world. But what happens when we put our hope in Jesus, and pain still exists?
Maybe we are expecting the wrong things from Jesus. I think that much of our rhetoric tells us that Jesus, and in many ways God, will come to fix things when we muck them up, sort of like a cosmic nanny. It can be comforting to hope for a God who is all powerful, who will come to cast the mighty down and uplift the humble of heart. But the reality I have seen is that justice movements take a long time, and they take lots of concerted effort, lots of struggle, and lots of sacrifice from committed people in order to succeed. And in the meantime, there can be setbacks, and physical and emotional pain.
In the Magnificat, sometimes called "Mary's Song," we hear the mother of Jesus glorifying God for the gift of her pregnancy. It's often spoken of as a statement of obedience and submissiveness, but I wonder if Mary didn't speak it with a little hesitation in her voice. I wonder if it was a statement of courage, and of a special kind of hope. Not a hope that God would make everything okay; I think Mary would have been pretty clear that telling her fiancee that she was pregnant with God's child was not going to be "okay." But a hope that she would have the strength to endure the pain and struggle, that she would have the courage to do what is right and just, and that she would have the wisdom to be a good mother to this King-to-be.
Perhaps the kind of hope we need this advent is hope that through Jesus, our co-journer, we would have that same strength to endure, that we would have that same courage to do justice, that same wisdom to be what God has called us to be.
Thanks be to God, for helping us to say "yes" to the call to work for peace.