2000 years ago, a poor, pregnant teenage girl in an oppressed people group sang a prophetic song of revolution and revelation, a song which told of God’s heart for all people. She started her song with personal words, glorifying God and thanking him for blessing her, even though her pregnancy-outside-of-marriage could have put her life in danger, and subjected her to scandal and scorn. Then Mary, the ultimate nobody in a power-driven world, uttered these profound and political words;
“His mercy extends to those who fear him…
(but) he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
“He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.”
– Luke 1:49-53 –
These words are so revolutionary, they were banned from being read aloud in British ruled India, and again in 1980’s Guatemala and Argentina. Mary knew that Jesus’ birth was not “good news” for everyone. For each blessing she spoke, there was an answering curse on those who thought they “had it all”. Mary’s song should be deeply troubling to all of us. It reminds us that everything we aspire to – power, pride, strength and wealth – is a barrier between us and God. If the church has lost her way and become proud, rich and powerful, then she needs to re-examine herself, lest she be scattered, brought down, and sent away empty.
God has never been happy with human structures to subjugate and oppress one another. The Old Testament is littered with God’s explicit commands to care for “the widow, the orphan and the foreigner”. God’s heart is biased towards the weak and the marginalised. His way, fully revealed in Jesus, is paved with love and forgiveness. Jesus’ life and teaching consistently lifted up the weak, the low, the humble, the hungry – but he willingly and deliberately confronted and chastised the proud, the self-sufficient, the religious and oppressive.
This Christmas, while we were filling our faces and accumulating more possessions in our warm, snug homes, surrounded by family, we may have missed the impact of the image of teenage Mary, separated from her family by scandal, homeless as she gave birth to her son in squalor, heralding in the greatest ideological reversal of hierarchy the world has ever known. Christmas is over now, but we should use this point of the year to remember we are part of a subversive, upside-down, revolutionary movement which can and will change the world.