Sweet Little Jesus Boy, they made you be born in a manger. Indeed, and that was the place he should have been born like so many others of his economic, cultural status. He was to be of the people and for the people – the people who earned their living through toil and sweat. He was placed there so that those similarly situated could identify with his lowly yet royal birth. He would come alive and live with them amidst such circumstances. The sacred exists in the commonplace. Often there is no room for the disinherited in places of comfort. Still, holiness find vitality even in the Tenderloin section of San Francisco.
In the opening chapter of the Gospel of Matthew the author states: (17) Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
There were twenty-eight generations just from David to Jesus, who was of the house and lineage of David. That is purportedly why Joseph left his hometown to go to Bethlehem to be registered and taxed. The idea of restoring something like David’s kingdom through the messiah was part of the memory of Mary’s and Joseph’s people. This kingdom would be mystical in the sense that the mystical reveals a oneness with the Divine and should reflect the presence of the Divine in everyday life. That means this new kingdom would be one of justice, compassion, and peace.
This was part of Mary’s understanding. Let us not separate her from her Jewish identity and heritage. For, then it is easy to isolate her from her story, from her his/herstory and commitment to justice, compassion, and peace that she carried in her heart and the reason she was so joyful about carrying fulfillment of this ancestral yearning. She was Miriam just like the sister of Moses was named Miriam. She too would play a liberating role in the lives of her people and covenanting with their liberating savior, God.
Andrew Harvey writes:
She was a woman who knew from terrible experience everything about social ostracism, poverty, and oppression in all its forms, and who did not accept them in the name of “purification’ or of an “otherworldly” vision but protested them vehemently and dedicated her whole life – as did her son—to enacting a way of life that would unravel the conditions that engendered them. This Mary, like her son, fused in their inmost being a gnosis of the kingdom of love and justice of God, lucid knowledge of the viciousness of the actual power relations, and a revolutionary vision of how the world must be transformed.
Miriam knew well the suffering of the common people, their exclusion from the benefits of the society, their ordeals, their persecution by politicians and manipulation by religious authorities. She was Miriam who, along with family and larger community had suffered long the wrong of patriarchal conquest. Miriam prayed and heard the prayers of ancestor and peers, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the captives, the abused women, and children. She knew of the burden of taxes on the backs of the poor, the lack of moral compass.
The ethos or soul of her kin was infused in her and would be in her son. It was not just Miriam. Her cousin Elizabeth was part of this vast, continuing, and evolving soul. Elizabeth husband, Zechariah too. Zechariah was stunned by the announcement that his prayer – his radical response to life as Dr. Matthew Fox defines prayer – would be answered through the unbelievable birth of a son to his wife Elizabeth. He could not understand this since he and she were well beyond the age of conception. He could not conceive that a child, John, could be born who would also respond to his yearnings and the hunger of his community. John too was part of the mystery.
What is clear is that the Great Mystery entered each of them and they into it. Dr. Fox says Panentheism teaches that all things are in God, God is in all things, and God works through all things.
If we still think that Miriam was just a passive receptacle of a mysterious moment, listen to her declaration of the meaning of her pregnancy as expressed in chapter 1 of the Gospel of Luke:
(51) He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
(52) He hath put down the mighty from their seats and exalted them of low degree.
(53) He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
King James Version
The God that Mary invokes is not merely an all-holy transcendental power, but the Lord of justice, who intervenes passionately and directly in time and in the heart of history on the side of the poor and oppressed to “shew strength with his arm,” to “scatter the “imaginations” of the proud, to “put down” the mighty from their seats and fill the hungry “with good things.”
This is not the mild Mary too often depicted in Christian literature and rituals. She was a liberation and womanist theologian long ago. She knew what suffering was. And she knew suffering because of politics and religion must end, must always end. She opened herself to birth this newness dedicated to replacing the old way of being.
Dr. Harvey continues:
The miracle of the new birth, the new consciousness, that Mary knows she is to bear into the world, is not, then merely a religious or “mystical” miracle – it is one that is destined to transform the facts and relations of reality as Mary tells us, in three linked and ascending stages. First, the new messianic consciousness will shatter all the “imaginations” of “pride” by revealing the truth of the “equality” and all-leveling love of the Kingdom. Then, it will undo all existing systems of power and control and “put down the mighty from their seats” and “exalt,” in actual institutional terms, those of “low degree.” Third, it will seal and make “practical” this revolution of the heart and of the relationship of power by a radical redistribution of all forms of wealth, spiritual and physical, that will fill “the hungry with good things.”
Is that what you celebrated yesterday? Mary campaigned with God in the politics of God. The Magnificat was the announcement of God’s platform – a platform that would not merely shuffle existing policies, institutions, structures, welfare for the rich, but would undo all of that in a radical revolution of imagination, values, and strategies. The platform was one of intentional living for a kin-dom of God that would surpass anything the people had known or even dreamed.
If we listen to Mary’s Magnificat, we will be ushered into the reality she describes, the imperative to change it, and the confidence, trust, faith that her baby will be an agent of the transformation, the revolution. This confidence resulted from God having historically acted in the lives of the people. God had not and would not abandon them.
Leonard Boff, one of the earliest liberation theologians, say in the Maternal Face of God-
The backdrop of the Magnificat is the tragic character of a world that is unjustly ordered and therefore an obstacle to God’s plan for society and human beings. However, God has resolved to intervene through the Messiah and to inaugurate new relations with all things . . . [in the birth of Christ] God has left the resplendent shadows of an inaccessible abode and now draws near the murky light of the human race. God enters the conflict; takes up the cause of the conquered and the marginalized against the mighty. . .. The mercy of God takes historical forms, is made concrete in deeds that transform the interplay of forces. The proud, with the power in their hands, do not have the last word: they think they have, but the divine justice is already upon them in history itself. . .. The reign of God is anything but the consecration of this world’s law and order – the decree of the overambitious. The Reign of Justice is the reign of a different justice. God promised this new world to our ancestors, and this promise is our certitude.
God was working with Mary within oppression to end oppression. And she Mary was ecstatic to be part of the Freedom Movement. What the baby would articulate in his adult life through word and deed was the urgency of the time. He would identify with God’s messianic work wholeheartedly, profoundly which exceeded in importance the title of Messiah. It was the work that he must do, the work of messiah, that was his driving force. It was the person that he must become that is critical. Nevertheless, his work was so aligned with the Messianic message that some declared him Messiah. Then, for us to speak about God or Messiah means to speak about freedom, community, the interruptions in history, the intrusions that bring about a new creation, a new incarnation.
The Magnificat was an announcement of the ongoing politics of God as a power that invades and upsets history, demands, and declares an alternative to the present set-up. There can be an alternative to the present because there is an alternative narrative to the past, a narrative of the subjugated.
Yes, there must be a counter narrative to that etched by those who dominate. bell hooks begins her collection of essays, Talking Back, with the observation of the difficulty of disclosure, opening up, sharing especially through a public platform. Even to speak out when you are supposed to remain silent is an act of courage. It can also be an act of revolution.
The history of colonization, imperialism is a record of betrayal, of lies, and deceits. The demand for that which is real is a demand for reparation, for transformation. In resistance, the exploited, the oppressed work to expose the false reality - to reclaim and recover ourselves. We make the revolutionary history, telling the past as we have learned it mouth-to-mouth, telling the present as we see, know, and feel it in our hearts and with our words.
Black men may have excelled in the art of poetic preaching in the male-dominating church, but in the church of the home, where the everyday rules of how to live and how to act were established, it was black women who preached. There, black women spoke in a language so rich, so poetic, that it felt to me like being shut off from life, smothered to death if one were not allowed to participate. It was in that world of women talk (the men were often silent, often absent) that was born in me the craving to speak, to have a voice, and not just any voice but one that could be identified as belonging to me.
The fragmentation of our present world can only be made whole as we share our stories, not merely of woe, but also of wonder – the wonder of resilience, of someone(s), something, a power, presence coming into our own lives and the lives of our communities, inverting those lives and communities, and bringing new consciousness and newness of birth. This is what we must share at Christmas in our homes, on the streets, as well as in our religious gatherings.
Critical to the revolution or social transformation is the telling of our story, our narratives that present alternatives to dominant narratives of the past and the find voice and action for the future. During Passover, the retelling of the escape from captivity, is a retelling and a remembering of the one who brought the Hebrews through. So, at Christmas time, there must be the retelling of the new birth of consciousness and collaboration. It is important to re-tell the story of how the poor and left out, became agents for the revelation of God in human circumstances. We traditionally celebrate Christmas as the time when God becomes incarnate in the world through God’s incarnation in the baby Jesus, Emmanuel. This is not the whole story, however. God was also incarnated in the lives of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, John, and in the world beyond the human, in the stars, the sheep, the manger, and even the swaddling clothes. May each Christmas remind us that God is incarnated in each of us.
Pardon, me! What bad manners I have exhibited. This is a Christmas message; but today is December 26. Christmas was December 25. Christmas is over. After Christmas sales emphatically say so. Discounts are plentiful. We must not be discounted, however. Christmas is every day, every second. For every day, every second, God impregnates us with life, breath, fertility, trusting us to give birth to the consciousness, the lives, the work that must be done. Yes, God is in us and with us, Emmanuel. God is also “for us”! God is our premier advocate and source of accountability, bidding us to work urgently together for new life and a new kin-dom.
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among all, To make music in the heart.