By: Keith Hebden
At Advent we prepare for Jesus return, for the coming of the Kin-dom of God. The song of Mary—the Magnificat—can help us prepare spiritually for this season because with it we echo Mary’s longing for a new and just re-ordering of society. Like Mary, we have no real idea of what that might mean. Only it will not be like before.
Last year, during Advent, Father Tim Jones, an Anglican priest in the Church of England made headline news here in Britain—and not for the first time—for the audacity of translating his faith into political direction. “‘It’s okay to shoplift’ says Father Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda” read the headline and the debate took wings.
The inspiration for Jones’s position was the Magnificat—the Song of Mary—a text from Luke’s gospel read daily around the world as part of the evening prayer liturgy.
My soul doth magnify the Lord,
The song of Mary, like much of the gospel writing, cleverly draws the reader both back in time and forward in hope. It reminds us of the Prayer of Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1–10), in which she gives thanks for the birth of her son who was to be the last of the judges of Israel and one who both anointed and dethroned the mighty king Saul. Hannah’s prayer, like Mary’s sees God as one who eradicates social and economic divisions, bringing justice to all and judgement against oppressors. One herald’s the monarchical kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the other the everlasting Kingdom of God in which none shall laud it over the other.
Tim Jones writes:
For in Mary’s song of praise is the explicit recognition that the poor are extremely close to the heart of God. The church, the community of people who keep the Magnificat alive, have long recognized that it is permissible to steal food in order to live. For ours is a God, Mary tells us, who has “lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” [Luke chapter 1 verses 52&53]. The mother of Christ reminds us what Jesus shows us: that God’s love for the poor and despised—and who in our society is despised more than a newly released prisoner?—outweighs the property rights of the rich.
The rich, not wanting to be sent away empty or taken down from their thrones, were quick to condemn this irresponsible preacher. The police, the supermarkets, and some within the church felt that the advice was disgraceful and that a minister of religion should no better and keep out of politics. ASDA/Wal-Mart called him “one psalm short of a sermon” to which he responded that “Wal-Mart is a trade union recognition short of an ethical employment policy,” and so it went on in the run-up to the silly season that is known as Christmas.
Jones and Wal-Mart were not the first to discover the explosive potential of the Magnificat. The East Indian Trading Company, working in Bangladesh had the text removed from Evening Prayer, lest the call to “put down the mighty from their seats” be taken literally by the colonised masses. There is a wonderful re-rendering of the Magnificat by the hymnist Fred Kaan, to the tune of ‘O Tannenbaum’, music made face by the protest song, ‘The Red Flag’.
Sing we a song of high revolt;
The words of the Magnificat should be a continued inspiration to us as we see the governments and rule-makers of the world, “proud in their imagination” claiming to be able to fix climate change, make poverty history, transform majority world economies, bring freedom to dictatorships, and more besides all at the point of a gun and without thought of relinquishing either power or wealth to those they claim to want to help.
It is worth noting that Mary did not thank the God who directs the paths of the might, or sends the rich away with instructions about how to use their wealth philanthropically. Mary gives thanks to the God who turns the world upside down; the God who rights the economic wrongs of the world so that the poor and oppressed might have all they need and be free.
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