December 15, 2009

A Political Pregnancy (and the Beatles)

by Jenny Williams
Luke 1:39-46, 47-55; Micah 5:2-5a

Though it is not my regularly scheduled week to share a lectionary reflection with you, I was struck with some thoughts this morning while I prepared for Sunday’s sermon. Charles L. Aaron, writing in this month’s Lectionary Homiletics on the gospel text for Advent 4C, takes the two Lukan pericopes as they come in Luke, one after the other, rather than separating them into the Visitation (to be read as the gospel lesson) and the Magnificat (to be read as the Psalter or the Canticle for the day).

In doing so, he contrasts the innocence of the girl who is to give birth to Jesus with the political ramifications of that birth. Taking verses 39-46 and 47-55 together, he says, “gives the preacher abundant material for preaching that critiques the sentimentality of the Christmas season. God speaks through simple, humble people in out of the way locations. The birth of Jesus has implications for our interior spirituality as the opening lines of the Magnificat indicate but also demands change in politics, economics, and use of power. This passage calls for deeper spirituality but also for the church to hold accountable politicians and all who exercise power. It reaffirms God’s continuing use of synagogue and church.”

I think Mary had no idea what she was doing. I mean that in a positive way. Her assent to all that the angel Gabriel told her was an act of deep faithfulness. But it was a relatively small act in the scheme of things. Her part in the ultimate reign of Christ was to have a baby. That she could do. Not that the consequences of the pregnancy were easy to handle (Joseph’s plans to dismiss her) nor were the conditions under which the baby was to be born (a smelly stable). But she offered herself to be God’s servant in that particular time and place by doing what she could do given her social location.

Aaron’s comments brought two Marian examples to mind. One I heard on NPR the other day. In Cobell v. Salazar, a case which alleged 122 years of mismanagement of American Indians’ trust accounts by the Department of the Interior, a $3.4 billion settlement was awarded to the plaintiffs. The suit went on for 13 years. Elouise Cobell noted that the suit became much bigger than she’d ever expected. The suit began as a response to requests by Native American elders to see if funds existed to make basic repairs on their houses or feed their grandchildren. Over 13 years, it became a story of reparations and how history gets narrated. What started out as a small decision by Cobell to be faithful to her people had implications that went far beyond her initial impulse to do what was right.

I’m also reminded of the people of Le Chambon, whom I learned about in movie shown in one of Stanley Hauerwas’ seminary classes. In World War II, this tiny Protestant village in southern France became a haven for Jews fleeing the Nazis and their French collaborators. The Chambonais hid Jews in their homes, providing significant assistance to them. We see them as shining stars in the church’s dark history of complacency in the face of Nazism, but the villagers routinely rejected any labels of heroism. They frequently and genuinely stated that they were simply helping people in need. What started out as their small decisions to be faithful had implications far beyond their initial impulse to do what was right.

Like Cobell and the Chambonais, Mary did not set out to tackle the principalities and the powers. She agreed to have a baby. In the words of the Beatles, she did not “say she wanted a revolution.” She said “let it be” with me according to your word. I agree with Aaron that the church should hold accountable those in power. We should challenge injustice in large, systemic ways. But I wonder if this Sunday is a time to instead give credit to the small acts of subversion that we really don’t see as subversive at all, or that come from places or people who do not see themselves as subversive. After all, Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, came from “one of the little clans of Judah.” Who’da thunk it?


Sarah said...

but what about the rest of the magnificat--let it be, certainly, but she also calls for equality, for a level playing field, for the rulers to be pulled down off their thrones... sounds like a revolution to me.

Scott Stroupe said...

Thank you for your thoughtful, prayer-filled reflection. A couple of lines in particular led to some thoughts of my own - though in a different direction. Keep up the great work.

Unknown said...

Sarah--absolutely. I was trying to say (and maybe did not do so very well) that her relatively small act of accepting divine pregnancy, led to all of those things at the end of the Magnificat and that in the act of acceptance, she probably did not know how important that pregancy would be. Her pregnancy led to all of those things at the end of the Magnificat.

Scott--I'm so glad that a few lines in here worked that way for you. That's often how lectionary reflections work for me: they stimulate my own thinking and creativity, often in a direction different from what the author intended.

May everyone worship the Lord with joy in the name of the Prince of Peace!