And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’ [from Luke 1]
Incarnation (God in human flesh) is seen in the smiles and good nature of this time of year, tasted in the special holiday foods many of us share, smelled in the hearth fires that symbolize warmth and love, felt in the handshakes and hugs of greeting, heard in the laughter of children.
Yes, we celebrate Christmas as a joyful holiday with gifts and with stories of a beautiful, healthy baby born in a sterile manger in the idyllic town of Bethlehem. Nice, clean-smelling shepherds with nothing icky on the bottoms of their sandals came calling. Jesus got an exciting trip into Egypt as a birthday gift. This is the story we celebrate with our children, and that is as it should be. We clean it up.
But we must remember, we grownups, that the story as retold and written had a very dark underside. It is the whole story, not just the sanitized version, that makes the Christmas narrative an incredible witness to God’s love.
In Jesus, the Gospel writers tell us, God came to a world where there are lepers and the demon-possessed, blind and lame, a world of the homeless and underhoused, the hungry, the lonely, the sick and the dying.
This strange song Mary sings gives thanks for the God who brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly; who fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty. That’s the story Luke wants to tell: God lifts up those who need it, and brings down those who are suppressing God’s kingdom of peace and justice.
We often romanticize the Christmas story of a baby born in a stable, and that’s okay. But sometimes we need to put the reality back into it. To remember that no parents ever wanted their infant to be laid in a feeding trough for animals. No parents ever had dreams for their children of fleeing with them to another country in order to keep them from harm.
The story of incarnation, of God With Us, is glorious and tragic at once.
The glory is this:
That God With Us is connected in a physical, visceral, experiential, personal way to human difficulty, tragedy, and loss.
God comes to the dinner table where you are surrounded by family and friends.
God comes to you in the night when you can’t sleep for worry and stress and anxiety.
God comes to the family that has given their kids too much, and to the family that can’t afford a decent holiday meal, to the family in a big warm house, to the family in the street, to the family in scary places afraid to leave the house, to the family in Newtown who doesn’t know how they will get through the holidays this year.
God comes to those who are single, or who have no family, and to those who would rather not claim the family they have.
God comes. To us.
Yes, this third week of Advent, let us remember that God lifts up the lowly. And let us, in God’s name, stretch out a hand to lift up someone who needs it.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2013