Welcome to the new year. Not the calendar new year, but the church’s new year that begins with the season of Advent. This is our rhythm in which we both remember the coming of God’s Messiah so long ago, but also we longingly hope for the coming of Jesus once again to make all things new. As Robert Webber reminds us in his book Ancient-Future Time:
The church has been entrusted with the meaning of all time. The world does not know the meaning of its own history, but the church does. Through the discipline of the Christian year, the church proclaims the meaning of time and of the history of the world.
The church tells time differently and with genuine purpose. We do not need to despise our cultural calendar (nor an academic or fiscal calendar). Yet, the people of God proclaim a story through a different rhythm.
With the ushering in of Advent, I want to first turn to Mary’s song—what we call “The Magnificat.”
Following the visit of the angel Gabriel, Mary hurriedly made her way to Elizabeth’s home. In that encounter, one of blessing declared by Elizabeth, this is the song that poured forth from Mary’s lips:
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
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.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors. (Luke 1:46-55)
What is worth noting is that, with the arrival of God’s Messiah, we are told a significant exchange would take place. There would be a great reversal, which is actually a theme that carries throughout Luke’s Gospel account.
A new day was dawning, one in which the proud would be scattered, rulers would be brought down, and the rich would be sent away empty. With that, the humbled would now be lifted up, the hungry would be filled with good things, mercy would be extended to those who fear him.
You see, this is none other than the way of the one true God. And it was going to make some people very uncomfortable.
Of course, it is! It lines up exactly with the story told leading up to Jesus’s arrival. If there is one thing that upsets God, and I mean really upsets him, it is the oppression and heinous treatment of others. This is the story of the Exodus. This is the ringing voice of the prophets. This is the song of Mary.
She was an embodiment of this message herself, both in her personal life but also as the bearer of the divine Son (what we call Theotokos). As the humble, she would be lifted up, encountering the boundless mercy of God as one who displayed an awesome reverence of Yahweh.
And just a few decades later, Jesus would enact this prophetic song of Mary through his own words and actions. Matter of fact, his ministry would launch with a similarly themed song from Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
As we enter this season of waiting and anticipatory hope, let us remember that a real hope arrived in Jesus, one that would “flip the script,” if you will. As I state in my newest work Reflections of Immanuel:
American Christianity has become predominantly product-based (supplying those who already have much) rather than servant-based (emptying ourselves on behalf of others who have little).
Perhaps we can move through this Advent season remembering that God has called for a great reversal, a flipping of the script. And let us consider as well how we may be the words and hands of Christ himself—to the prisoner, to the blind, to the oppressed. This is the way of the coming kingdom. This is the way of the coming Messiah.