Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent, Day 19: Timeline

Today's readings: Psalm 146:5-10, and Luke 1:47-55

It could be that there's a fine line between faith and delusion.

I realize that's a rather unconventional (and even a bit negative) way to begin an Advent reflection, but there it is. It's hard for me not to think that way, when I read Mary's hymn of praise in Luke chapter 1, the text commonly known as The Magnificat. (The Latin "Magnificat anima mea Dominum" means "My soul magnifies the Lord," the first words of the song.)

Mary seems to toe right up to that line between confident belief and complete fantasy. Here, after all, is a young and unmarried woman, carrying new life in her womb. Here is a woman whose husband-to-be has the option (and every right) to have her sent away or even stoned for her condition. Here's a woman in a community living under intense oppression, with only the prophets' promises of a coming king who will bring victory at last.

And yet she sets fear aside, commits to a life as the "Lord's servant" and "favored one," and goes on not to cower in a corner to await her fate, but to sing praise for God's magnificence. But not God's future magnificence, in some distant day when the prophets' visions will be fulfilled---for Mary seems to understand that God's future is already true. The verbs give it away; she sings not what God will do; instead, she sings with utter faith that God's mighty work has already been accomplished:

"he has scattered those who are proud"

"he has brought down rulers from their thrones"

"he has filled the hungry with good things"

"he has helped his servant Israel"

It's an incredible statement of faith from a life where the power is held by the proud; where the rulers bask in their palaces; where the hungry languish; where the chosen people are the world's doormat.

Mary's faith may seem delusional--even today, thousands of years later, pride is rampant, the wealthiest rulers hold sway, the streets are full of starvation, and God's people suffer. And yet she seemed to have a glimpse into what it may mean that God is beyond our understanding of time. In human terms, time is linear--it moves in a straight line, around a clock face, through the pages of calendars. It moves in only one direction: past is behind us and cannot be revisisted; the present demands all our attention; the future is a mystery, and we cannot dodge it's imminent arrival.

God's timeline, though, is without boundary and beyond the constraints of counting. God's existence in eternity may mean that God's past, present, and future are indistinguishable. All three ARE. All three are NOW. It could be that what we humans describe as "God knowing the future" may be better understood by considering that God's future already IS.

I think Mary had a glimpse of this. The kind of redemption she sang about in the Magnificat was certainly far off for the Hebrew people (and for the world ever since). But she seemed to have a view of the future from God's boundless perspective, where God's care, his equalization, his blessing already ARE. Our praise, too, can celebrate God's timelessness and timeline-less-ness: praise God who saves! Praise God who comes to be with us! Praise God who lifts up those who suffer! Praise God who feeds those who hunger! Praise God who shows mercy to his people!

May we, like Mary, make ourselves available to God's unique calls; and may we, like Mary, magnify his name.

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