Why has this happened

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Love promises the kingdom

  • Micah 5:2-5a “But you, O Bethlehem…shall be the one of peace”
  • Luke 1:39-55 Mary’s Song the Magnificat

A Prophet’s Revolutionary Word – Micah 5:2-5a

Our Advent preparation climaxes today with more startling prophetic words building on biblical encounters of the past three Sundays. Today the prophet Micah and the virgin Mary become God’s startling servants. No other biblical word expresses it better than Mary’s declaration, “Let it be to me according to your word” and her song we know as the Magnificat .

“Micah’s prophecies alternate between announcements of judgment and portrayals of a glorious future. The stinging indictment…that “Zion will be plowed like a field” (3:12) [is] followed by [the promise of beating] “swords into plowshares” (4:3). [Now] daughter Zion is again suffering at the hands of the nations who are assembled against her for battle. Zion is under siege and the king has been humiliated” (Ben Ollenberger, AMBS Advent).

Yet a distressing siege is not the last word. Micah prophesies that God’s new hope will be found not in Jerusalem but in the little village of Bethlehem, home to David’s ancestors. “[God] chose David [to be Israel’s king] and promised that David’s line would always endure (2 Sam 7:16-17). In Micah, in most unlikely circumstances, God confirms that promise. God’s promise is for the future, and Micah comments that Zion’s current distress will continue until ‘she who is in labor will give birth.’ God promises to redeem Zion (Jerusalem’s people) from her enemies and this redemption, this new birth, coincides with the advent of a new king from David’s line…who will be their shepherd….a [biblical] metaphor for king….and the king shepherds the flock on God’s behalf. Thus, the flock will be secure, under the royal shepherd’s universal reign…This royal shepherd will be ‘the one of peace.'” (Ollenberger).

In Micah’s words, “the one who is to rule Israel…shall feed his flock in the strength of God… shall be great…and shall be the one of peace”?

Micah points to this Bethlehem intrusion as one who will rule on God’s behalf in a new way. But it is an intrusion that takes the form of a baby. But wait! How can a baby be God’s new dramatic intrusion into the world. Yet Advent’s purpose is to prepare us for God’s intrusion into the world as a baby .

Those of us who are parents know that a baby is an intrusion. But this baby is to be an intrusion not just in his parent’s lives but in the life of the world. (Willimon, Pulpit Resource ).

Micah’s prophesy offers hope for a new ruler from Bethlehem as the improbable birthing of God’s intrusion into the world. But it is two amazing and even more improbable women who give birth to God’s unlikely intrusion in a baby.

A Virgin’s Revolutionary Word – Luke 1:39-55

Elizabeth and Mary are these two unlikely women…one too old, the other too young …one barren, the other a virgin. Yet in response to God’s angelic announcement, the two women meet and greet, they bless and sing, and give birth to God in the world.

“Why has this happened?” Mary asks, and then provides the answer. Listen to the story.

Singing, “Here I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” Mary sets off to see her relative Elizabeth who also will give birth as a servant of God.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry.

Elizabeth’s cry is expressed in four oracles of prophetic divine revelation
Elizabeth declares that Mary and the baby in her womb are blessed:

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

Elizabeth asks a rhetorical question about Mary and the baby’s identity:

And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

Elizabeth reveals the movement in her own womb as a response to Mary:

For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.

Finally Elizabeth utters a blessing upon Mary for her faithfulness as God’s servant:

And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

(Luke 1:39-45; R. Alan Culpepper, Luke , NIB, 55) .

Then Mary replies to Elizabeth with magnificent prophetic praise.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
      and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
      Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
      and holy is [God’s] name.
God’s mercy is for those who fear God
      from generation to generation.
[ God] has shown strength with his arm;
      [and] has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
[God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
      and lifted up the lowly;
[God] has filled the hungry with good things,
      and sent the rich away empty.
[God] has helped his servant Israel,
      in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise [God] made to our ancestors,
      to Abraham and Sarah and to [their] descendants for ever.
Luke 1:46-55

Mary’s Song has been called the most revolutionary words ever written. Biblical scholar Jane Schaberg calls Mary’s song “the great New Testament song of liberation…a revolutionary document of intense conflict and victory.”( Lisa Guedea Carreño, Goshen College)

Having just spent a week of Advent at Saint John’s Abbey, I am convinced that one of the great gifts of monastic life is that Mary’s Magnificat is sung at the close of evening prayer every day of the year not just at the climax of Advent. It is like the Lord’s Prayer in its revolutionary wisdom. We would do well to pray both daily! Both help us remember that God desires that we be faithful servants giving birth to God’s intrusion into our lives and world just as Mary was 2000 years ago.

Meister Eckhart (1260-1329), a fourteenth century mystic who influenced some Anabaptists, asked, “What good is it to me that Mary gave birth to the [child] of God fourteen hundred years ago, if I do not also give birth to the [child] of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born.”

Advent Inspiration from Mentors & Poets

For years in Advent I have read a single book of Advent meditations. This Advent I have found inspiration from many poets and mentors. Two poems based on Mary as God’s servant birthing God in the world, come from two of my mentors. Kilian McDonnell and Peter Ediger are prophets as well as poets.

Ten days ago when I was at Saint John’s Abbey, there was a reception for one of the monk’s, Kilian McDonnell, who had just published his second book of poetry. He started writing poetry a decade ago in his mid-70s and now at 86, published a second book of poetry called Yahweh’s Other Shoe .

Kilian strives to make his “poems breathe human air, but tread on divine ground” — which speaks of the Incarnation! His poems are not pious poetry but poetry that asks God and ourselves hard questions grounded in biblical stories. Someone said that reading Kilian’s poetry is like having a ringside seat in a wrestling match with God. Kilian says about his poetry, “I wrestle with God, ‘flesh to flesh, sweat to mystery,’ and I limp away.” Even the cover of Yahweh’s Other Shoe became a wrestling match, at least with the publisher. Kilian won this wrestling match. On the cover of Yahweh’s Other Shoe is a shoe. It is clearly a woman’s shoe!

This poem is called “Joseph, I’m Pregnant by the Holy Ghost.”

Life was simple before that angel
pushed open the kitchen door,
announced light and trouble, as though
a foe had roiled the bottom of the well
and now the pail brings up only
murky water. I’m chosen for some
terrible grace beyond the well.
After short light long dark,
left to stumble through the Sinai
Desert. No manna to gather, no quail
to catch. Nothing. When I tell Joseph
I’m pregnant by the Holy Ghost,
He stares ox-dumb in hurt, I’ve asked
him to believe that I, God’s
Moses-girl, part seas, give
Torah. He turns, leaves
without a word. Why should my dearest
love believe? Yahweh’s not fair.
Where’s the voice of light? Where
the pillar of fire? My man drops
me cold, as if I were a concubine
dismissed without a drachma for cheating
on her master’s blanket with that
swarthy Roman soldier from the barracks.
Joseph doesn’t expose me; I will
not be stoned. My heart eats Yahweh’s
cinders. I drink the last date wine
gone sour at the dregs.
God does nothing. But I carry life.

The other poem is from Peter Ediger and is called “The Birthing”, a paraphrase of the Annunciation to Mary from Luke 1.

The Birthing
by Peter Ediger, Pace e Bene (Franciscan Peace community)

In these days the angel Gabriel is being sent to a galaxy called Milky Way to a young planet who is espoused to a system named Solar. The planet’s name is Earth. And the angel comes in to her and says, hail Earth, you are highly favored: the Creator is with you. Blessed are you among planets.

When Earth sees the angel, she is troubled, wondering what this may mean. The angel is saying to her, Do not be afraid, for the Creator has been gracious to you. You shall conceive and bear new life, which you shall call New Creation. Earth says, how can this be, since I don’t know anyone who has the power to bring new life into my womb?

The angel answers, The Cosmic Spirit shall come upon you, and the Creator’s love shall overshadow you, therefore that which is being born in you shall become New Creation.

And Earth is saying, let it be done to me according to your word.

God is birthing in and through us

On this fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve, may we dare to sing with Mary and proclaim “Let it be to me according to your word.” For us and through us God is entering into the world.