I. Extreme inequality in income and resources between the haves and have-nots. Wealthy elites fiercely guarding their stashes. Imperial powers throwing around their weight. No redress for the poor and working classes. A complacent, if not complicit, religious establishment. Is this first-century Israel or twenty-first-century America?
II. The Magnificat, which we sang a few moments ago, is not the gentle ballad you may think it to be. Don’t let the poetry and pretty music fool you. Mary’s Advent hymn is nothing less than revolutionary: a manifesto intended to upend an unacceptable status quo. Mary proclaims,
He has shown strength with his arm, scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.
Mary calls for the destruction of thrones, deposition of the world’s potentates, and a rearrangement of economic power. The Magnificat has been so potent, so threatening to the powers that be, that it was banned by dictators and juntas in Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico, and Spain.
III. The prophetic words of Mary, of Isaiah, of John the Baptist, are not reminiscences of a time long ago and a place far away. Their vision for justice and righteousness—God’s vision—determines our mission in the here and now. In a day when meaningful political discourse is hard to come by, when talk is cheap and getting cheaper, our sacred talk must retain its meaning and value.
Our Advent scriptures are uncompromising. However we struggle with how to resolve the disparities between the rich and the poor, whether we engage in resolving the disparities is not optional. God clearly takes sides in this matter: God is on the side of the poor. And God wants us to be there, too.
God’s advent in Jesus Christ is intended to reform business-as-usual, politics-as-usual, Church-as-usual, life-as-usual. Because Jesus Christ was once promised to come and did, we confidently stake the success of our mission on the promise that he will come again. In the meantime, we not only bear that promise to the poor, we must be the promise.