Christmas meant justice for a poor woman (Luke 1:46-50)
When Mary hears the words of Elizabeth, when she hears that Elizabeth’s little baby leaped in her womb at the very sound of Mary’s voice, when she hears Elizabeth’s blessing on her – when these various strands come into play, Mary suddenly bursts into song.
I am struck again and again at where Mary begins: with her condition. God, she says, has “been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” This means one thing: Mary is a poor woman. The Greek term here is tapeinosis which, if you yank down your Hatch and Redpath, you will know translates anawim – and that is magic! Mary is part of the Anawim clan, the pious poor, those who hoped for Israel’s liberation and justice to be established, those who gathered at the Temple at feasts for prayer and mutual consolation, and who joined one another in expectation – that is the group out of which Mary comes. (And her son, Jesus, would soon pronounce a big blessing on the “poor.”)
And here we find a tragedy for us Protestants: Mary says this: “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” We could translate, as I’ve said many times, “all generations (except the Protestants!) will call me blessed.” We’ve just got this thing that we’re worried we’ll sound like Roman Catholics if we start blessing Mary – and it is the Word of God, inspired by the Spirit in one of the greatest canticles ever, that teaches us to do this. (Try it, right now: “Bless you Mary, mother of Jesus.”)
God has blessed her in assigning her the role of being mother to Messiah.
In so doing, God is doing great things; God is extending his mercy to those who fear him (like Mary and Elizabeth); God is doing this in a continuous line from the days of Abraham on.
Poverty is a condition – a condition of the poor who do not have enough for the basics of life, who know their humiliation – and it is poverty Mary knew. And she sees in the Christmas message a lifting of that humiliation.
At this Christmas season, may we dedicate ourselves to think of the poor and work for their aid and give of our resources to alleviate their needs. Not just in the Dickens A Christmas Carol sense, but in new and creative ways.
God’s generosity prompts our own.