I’ve started working on a sermon for Advent, looking at Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1. As I read and reread the story, I’m more aware of how the “first Christmas” was a revolutionary proclamation. Jesus was to be the reestablishment of the Davidic dynasty promised by God in 2 Samuel 7.
Mary, a young woman around 13 to 16 years old, understood what this meant. And it seems her young life was spent in pious preparation for Yahweh’s return. Her psalm of revolution was an “in your face” confrontation with Herod:
“[Yahweh] 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,
even as he said to our fathers.”
Because she trusted in the covenantal faithfulness of Yahweh and was strengthened by Elizabeth in a “community of miraculous conceptions,” Mary believed the angel. She had confidence that her son would be the new king in Jerusalem, dethroning Herod and ultimately Rome and establishing Yahweh’s restorative justice in Israel and the world.
Oppressive rulers would be toppled from their thrones. Those who enjoyed wealth at the expense of the poor would be driven away empty. And the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed would finally have their day.
Mary didn’t understand how her son would bring this about. She had no way of anticipating how he would fulfill these dreams in completely unexpected ways. And she never could have imagined that Jesus would be enthroned in Jerusalem, but that his throne would be a Roman cross outside the city walls.
As I read yesterday’s gospel reading from Luke 3, I was amazed at how Luke is telling his story. I used to think his references to Roman leaders was simply a technique of anchoring his gospel historically. But in light of Mary’s Magnificat, I also think Luke is giving us a who’s who of those in line for dethronement as Jesus begins his ministry — Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod and his brother, Philip, Lysanias, and the Jewish high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.
In other words, as Jesus moves forward toward his enthronement and the fulfillment of Israel’s (and his mother’s) dream of Yahweh’s justice rolling down like a mighty river on behalf of the poor and oppressed, those who will yield to his kingship will be from the highest ranks of Roman leadership AND Jewish spirituality. All powers and authorities are being called to the carpet and must ultimately yield to King Jesus. No one is innocent and no one is exempt. Evil and injustice isn’t an “us versus them” issue. It cuts a path through every person, every government, every institution, and even every church.
So as we sing songs this Advent season like “Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King,” we must also be aware that our names, our governments, our institutions, our churches, our beloved ideologies and philosophies are on the list for dethronement in order to make way for King Jesus.
And trust me. This really is Good News.