a magnificat christmas: mary & jesus’ birth
Since there are literally thousands of theological articles on the web about Christmas 2011, and since I have basically nothing original to say, I will keep mine short.
What do we say about Christmas? What does it mean for us?
It seems common for Christians to chide society for the reduction of Christmas to a consumeristic holiday, though the irony of simultaneously engaging in said consumerism seems lost on them.
The problem is that merely insisting on the presence of Christ in Christmas is not an articulate expression of the meaning of Christmas.
Some go further, emphasising the birth of Jesus with a view to him eventually dying for our sins—Christmas is really about Easter. This might be caricaturing things a little, but for some the birth of Jesus, and indeed his subsequent life, holds little to no meaning apart from the atonement.
Are these adequate ways of articulating the importance and power of Christmas?
It may help to remember what Mary the mother of Jesus had to say of the impending birth of her son; here is her song, the Magnificat:
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And 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 mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)
If you have time I encourage you to sit and reflect on this passage for a few moments.
What is God going to do for his people through the coming of Jesus? Mary’s song of praise suggests he will bring down the proud and rich while lifting up the humble and hungry – he will turn the world upside down. This is a recurring theme throughout Luke’s Gospel.
God’s plan to turn all things upside down through Jesus, bringing down the rich, is a sobering point of thought as we reflect on the meaning of Christmas and the consumerism that has enveloped the occasion.
It’s easy to criticise society for the bastardisation of Christmas, but do we match up to our own insistence on putting the poor, marginalised, manger-born Christ back into Christmas? How does our observation of Christmas reflect this Christ?
How are we different?