Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Christmas is about Promise

A Magnificat kind of Christmas knows that Mary experienced profound release the moment she realized her son would be Messiah. Her release found its way into a marvelous song that extolled the faithfulness of God to his promise.
Once again, here’s the text. This time I ask you to read the whole with an eye to the last two verses. In fact, why not read those last two verses first and then start at the top and read to the bottom?
46And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.”

My observation is this: everytime I read this song I am struck that Mary sees the ending of injustice and the establishment of messianic justice as God’s fidelity of his promises to Abraham. Now, frankly, I’ve read Genesis 12 and 15 enough times to know that there is not a whole lot of justice them or injustice theme inherent to those chapters.
Which leads me to this: the promise to Abraham unrolled in the Bible and gathered around it, as a snowball rolling on a perfect day becomes a huge ball, the expectations of God for his people. It called for God to be faithful to his people — for God to be Israel’s God as Israel was God’s people. But, Israel had sinned; Israel needed God’s mercy. Israel needed God to fulfill his promise to restore Israel. Mary grew up with these expectations.
Those expectations involved a society that followed Torah, that worshipped God as it should have in the Temple and according to the calendar, and that lived in such a way that exploitation of the poor ended and usurpation of power by the unruly was nonexistent. In other words, the Abrahamic covenant promises of Genesis 12 involved a society that lived according to God’s will.
Which is my definition for “kingdom of God”: the society in which God’s will was done. This is exactly what Mary extols. God, who promised long ago to Abraham to be faithful to his people, has come full circle: Israel’s exile is over; Israel’s shame has come to an end; and Israel’s glory is about to be seen all over the Land. Israel’s time of oppression is about to end. Injustice will disappear and justice will appear.
In the birth of a baby named Jesus.
A Magnificat Chistmas praises God for his faithfulness to his promise.

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Ted Gossard

posted December 17, 2006 at 7:35 am

We need to keep hearing this, and then be seeing it more clearly, Scot. Thanks much.

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posted December 17, 2006 at 4:35 pm

Subversive Influence » Blog Archive » Christmas is about Promise: O Come Again, Emmanuel

[…] Scot McKnight continues reflecting on the Magnificat Christmas with Christmas is about Promise, which follows after Christmas is about the Poor. […]

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Pastor Astor

posted December 17, 2006 at 6:19 pm

Thanks Scott!

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posted December 17, 2006 at 7:36 pm

Mary considers herself part of the blessing– she is blessed through Abraham. She’s no second-rate citizen in the Kingdom of God because she is a woman. I feel a new tingling emergence this Christmas season: Mary. She’s been the subject of many articles, books, and blogs this season. Followers of Christ have much to learn from her– she’s not exclusively Catholic! A fantastic musing on her was found here: at the blog Godd Hungry. Keep it up!

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Matt Dabbs

posted December 17, 2006 at 9:37 pm

God expects his covenant people to be just. It starts with the covenant and then come the expectations of who his people are to be. It is interesting how at times this unfolds over the course of generations and at other times all at once (Gen 12 & 15 vs. Exodus 20ff). Abraham wasn’t let in on many of the implications of the covenant. The exodus generation went from Egypt to renewing their relationship with God and establishing his covenant expectations for their lives all in one generation. God knows just what we need and unfolds things at his own pace. Thanks for your thoughts.

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Keith Schooley

posted December 18, 2006 at 3:13 pm

Scot –
This is beautiful, but I am troubled….
I’m not trying to be flippant here, but wouldn’t this mean that God’s promise wasn’t fulfilled through Jesus? It’s two millenia later, and Mary’s words haven’t been fulfilled, except in a limited fashion, and in limited parts of the globe.
It seems that we are faced with the typical eschatalogical choice:
1) spiritualize the text: God spiritually “sets free” and “equalizes” those who trust in Him;
2) “relativize” the text: in a minor fashion, some of this has occurred, so the promise has been fulfilled in a relative way;
3) modernize the text: it’s our duty to make this happen in our world now–but then, what are we to say of all of church history up until now?
4) futurize the text: we’re waiting for the Second Coming, at which point the Real Fulfillment will come.
To clarify, I see our generation as a part of the stream of church history; I reject the notion that all that has occurred in the past is corrupt, and this generation is going to turn around and make it right. (Didn’t Phil Collins sing about this? How old is he now?) So if we are to take this seriously and literally, then how are we to view this text?

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Scot McKnight

posted December 18, 2006 at 3:20 pm

Good question.
Most either spiritualize it and see it fulfilled already in Christians; others futurize it and make it eschatology. I do neither.
I see it partially fulfilled in the social nature of the community of Jesus and see it in Luke 4:18-19; 6:20-26; 7:13-14 (JB answer) and esp in Act 2:42-47. That is, it is fulfilled not so much nationally but in the “third way,” the community of Jesus.

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Jeff Gin

posted December 18, 2006 at 6:18 pm

First…thanks for all the wonderful work on Mary…really like your comments on the Magnificat…will someone please sing/scream this the way it was meant too be!!!
Second…in response to your response on Keith’s response…I feel that we often fall pray to the notion of instant gratification…I see the Magnificat and by extention the life of Christ as the climax of the story…a story that hasn’t ended yet, but is on its way there…it seems that story of the Text, and our participation of its extension into history, is continuously moving towards the Kingdom as Mary portrays…maybe this is kind of like modernizing the Magnificat and saying that the story of the church (past, present, and future) is the journey towards the Kingdom…

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