The power of needing a savior
During Advent, we anticipate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And in our own second Advents, we await that Savior to return again. In order to really grasp the “reason for the season,” if you will, we become acquainted with our desire to be saved, and we familiarize ourselves with the gravity of our oppression.
One of the reasons that Mary accepts the responsibility of birthing this baby Savior into the world, as a young girl, is because she is familiar with her own oppression, and she is ready to be liberated from it. She is prepared to say, “I am the Lord’s servant… May your word to me be fulfilled.” I’m not saying this to discount her faith and her courage, but her oppression gives her the faith she needs for a miracle. Her cynicism doesn’t eclipse her faith.
Mary knows that as an unmarried woman, if she is apparently bearing a child, she’ll be shamed and scorned. She has the courage, though, to say “yes” to God because she wants to be free from how society oppresses her. She wants to rid her body of the shame that’s put on it, and Jesus will do that. She knows she’s under an oppressive Empire, with a puppet King who oppresses them further, but as a Jewish woman, in captivity, she is ready for her liberation.
More than that, she is assured of God’s faithfulness because of the story that she’s participating in, and the people she is a part of. She is tethered to a history and to a tradition and to a body that promises that God will save her, and that God’s love endures forever. Just like God liberated the Israelites from Egypt, through the leadership of Moses, the same will happen again, this time through God-with-us, Immanuel.
Mary praises for her long-awaited liberation
Mary knows this and that’s why she sings one of the most powerful anthems in the Bible after she learns that her savior is coming, and entering the world through her! Her song is a similar song to many of the women song’s of liberation in the Bible. Here’s a smattering:
From Exodus 15, Miriam’s song:
The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
are drowned in the Red Sea.
The deep waters have covered them;
they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, Lord,
was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
shattered the enemy.
From Judges 5, the Song of Deborah:
“So may all your enemies perish, Lord!
But may all who love you be like the sun
when it rises in its strength.”
From 1 Samuel 2, Hannah’s Prayer:
“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.
“For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;
on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.
Finally, from Luke 1, Mary’s Song:
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.
Today we can join and sing our own song of liberation as we await our Lord to return. But first, we must acquaint ourselves with our oppression and our need of a savior.
In need of a God whose love is powerful
We would do well to follow in her footsteps and tether ourselves to a people, and to a story. Oppressed people have an advantage in doing this because we have a common experience of being oppressed and we long for a savior. That savior has always been Jesus, and always will be. But I have to admit, the way that the church has been co-opted by the powerful, whether it was the Romans, whether it was medieval Europe, whether it was American Evangelicals, makes the church a harder sell. Too often, the church is not a liberating body, but an oppressive one. Too often, it fails to call political power to account, and tries to collect political power on its own. Too often, it’s an agent of the state, instead of an alternative to the state, and thus a state-resister that Jesus, through his death—a state-sanctioned death—inaugurated.
But despite being too often wed to power, the church has been a refuge for the oppressed for centuries. The Bible is full of stories about how God is a protector of the weak and the lowly. God’s selection of Israel as God’s people—a nation born through liberation—is an indication of this. But Jesus, himself, being born as a baby, under an oppressive empire, is another indication. The powerless are the ones who need a God whose love is powerful. So we must become familiar with our powerlessness, and let go of the power we have. Everyone is welcome to the table of salvation, but the price of entry will vary. For some, it will feel as if the yoke is easy and the burden light. For others, it will be a great sacrifice for them.
But as we become familiar with the inadequacy of the powers of this world, we will draw closer to God. As we become aware of the false promise of salvation that the state offers us (that our race, class, and gender offer us, even) the sacrifice of that power will become easier, and we too can sing Mary’s song.
Inspiration from the Black churches that Trump’s supporters vandalized
In Washington, D.C., supporters of Donald Trump who were protesting the results of the election vandalized historic Black churches, stealing and burning their Black Lives Matter signs. These Black Christian leaders demonstrated the courage and faith of Mary in their response. They inspired me to do the same.
From the Washington Post: “Last night demonstrators who were part of the MAGA gatherings tore down our Black Lives Matter sign and literally burned it in the street,” the Rev. Ianther M. Mills, the church’s senior pastor, said in a statement. “It pained me especially to see our name, Asbury, in flames. For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings.”
In response, William H. Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan AME, tweeted, “We have not been distracted by signs, sounds, or fury for nearly two centuries. We worship. We liberate. We serve.”
Mills’s statement Sunday morning emphasized the history of her church.
“We are a resilient people who have trusted in God through slavery and the Underground Railroad, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement, and now as we face an apparent rise in white supremacy,” it said.
I am inspired by the faith of these leaders. In the face of Western chauvinism and White supremacy—antithetical ideas to the God of Mary, but too often deeply held beliefs of White Christians—these leaders resisted evil. When it was easier to succumb, to avoid, to back down, they stepped forward, like Mary did, as faithful servants of the Lord. I am inspired by them, and I want to be led by them. Their position in their society compels them to be faithful to their liberator. I am inspired to follow in the same faithfulness, in the same story, in the same cause.