Holy Disruption and the Upside-Down Kingdom
A sermon on Luke 1:46-55.
[ for an audio recording of this semon, click here. Photo by Trevin Rudy on Unsplash]
I had an interesting experience this week.
I had a meeting at my son’s school with one of the administrators. He was interacting with me as the parent of one of his students, so as he was bidding me farewell in the hallway he said, “Bye, Mom. Thanks for coming in.”
I am used to being addressed as “mom” in contexts where the adults know me through my children, so I thought nothing of this form of address… until a student who happened to ne in the hallway at the same time said, “Wait, Mr. A____, is that your mom?!”
Now, I have embraced the reality that I am a middle-aged woman. I am halfway to 90, so I am probably near the middle of my life.
But, in order to be the mother of this gentleman – even if he is younger than he appears – I would have had to have birthed him as a young teenager!
And I think that was what took me back when I heard the student’s question.
I wasn’t offended. I just burst out laughing. I am already aware that anyone over the age of 25 is “old” to my children’s peers.
But it was jarring to think of what it would be like, at this point in my life, to have an adult son old enough to be a vice principal.
Theoretically, I know it would be possible. But, trying to imagine that… all I can think is how terrifying it would have been to be facing motherhood when I was that young.
Which is all a long (and only moderately embarrassing) way of saying that, if I had been in Mary’s position when she learned of God’s plan for her, I DON’T think my reaction to the announcement of an unexpected pregnancy would have been to compose the song of Praise to God that we all chanted together a few minutes ago.
And I am CERTAIN that I would not have seen teen motherhood as a sign of God’s favor.
I mean, Mary is mostly right about “all (future) generations” calling her blessed, but I think I would have been a lot more concerned about my own generation.
About the inevitable whispers and shaming looks.
About the sudden shifts in my expectations for my future.
About the possibility of devastatingly life-altering consequences.
I just don’t think I could have managed to see the sudden news of a baby as good news for me.
Which makes me wonder” what kind of upside-down, bizarre version of reality is Mary living in that she could pull such an expression of joyful praise our of her terrifying situation?!
As it happens, Mary answers that question for us in her song… because it is precisely God’s upside-down agenda for the world that she is praising.
God topples the powerful off their high thrones and raises up the lowly instead;
God fills the hungry with all they could want, but send away empty those who are used to getting more than they need;
God takes the lofty ideas of the proud and scatters them as worthless;
God has looked with favor on one who is lowly in the eyes of the world, and has shifted things so that HER name will be remembered for all generations.
To sum it up, God is committee to turning the existing structures of power and privilege upside down.
Mary sees a pattern in her circumstances that reflect what she knows about who God is, and how God acts, and it is THAT pattern that allows her to celebrate in a situation that would have made my comfortable, suburban, teenaged self panic.
She sees the pattern of Holy Disruption
I have been talking about Holy Disruption for several weeks now, but I haven’t really dug into the way that our relationship to the status quo might influence the way that we respond to God’s Holy Disruption.
The truth is, Holy Disruption generally sounds more enticing to those on the margins – like, for instance, a lowly peasant girl in an occupied country.
It sounds enticing because the people on the margins are not benefitting from the existing system.
That have less to lose, and more to welcome, in a radical re-making of the world.
Mary’s Magnificat is most definitely sung from the margins.
As Catholic theologian, Sister Elizabeth Johnson explains, “The Magnificat is a revolutionary song of salvation whose political, economic, and social dimensions cannot be blunted. People in need in every society hear a blessing in this canticle. The battered woman, the single parent without resources, those without food on the table or without even a table, the homeless family, the young abandoned to their own devices, the old who are discarded: all are encompassed in the hope Mary proclaims.”
Holy Disruption is a promise of HOPE for those on the disadvantaged end of the social spectrum.
It’s an assurance that seemingly intractable patterns of unfairness are not a barrier to God’s redemption.
It’s a claim that God’s mercy is more than a spiritual salve, that it will actually shift reality to provide for those who are suffering.
But what does it mean for those of us who may not be reflected on Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s list of people in need?
For those who are not consistently shoved to the margins, or suffering with hunger?
For those of us who might have some share of power, or riches, or pride, that we would not relish getting flipped upside down?
Can the Holy Disruption that Mary magnifies be good news for us?
I think the answer is “yes” – and not just because that’s supposed to be the answer, or because a good sermon always has a good word for the people it addresses.
Mary’s song itself, even with all its table-turning language, does not end on a note of division. She doesn’t glorify God for simply reversing the scales and leaving a different group at the bottom.
She ends her song with an appeal to God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants forever.
That promise, the promise that God made to Abraham back in Genesis 12, is a promise of UNIVERSAL blessing. A promise to make of Abraham a great nation, and to make his name respected, and to bless him to be a blessing.
Blessed to be a blessing is not just about reversing who gets advantaged and who gets disadvantaged…. It’s about disrupting the whole hierarchical system where only some people get the advantage.
It’s about re-writing the rules so that we don’t have to have winners and losers.
It’s about EVERYONE getting blessed.
God’s model for God’s people is to bless them in a way that draws everyone else into the blessing as well.
And – make no mistake – such a model is a fairly radical disruption of the status quo.
But it’s also how Mary’s song of celebration for God’s pattern of turning the world upside-down CAN actually be good news for everyone, and not only for those on the margins.
Just… try to imagine it.
Try to imagine a world where pride gets scattered and power can’t be abused anymore…
Where those who have been stepped on are raised up and those who have been hungry are filled…
Where mercy is the guiding principle and blessing is shared instead of horded.
Wouldn’t that be better? Even for those of us who might be doing OK in the current system? Wouldn’t universal blessing be a better system?
I honestly don’t know how Mary, as a young teenage whose life was suddenly upended, had the insight to understand such a vision of God’s Holy Disruption.
I don’t think I could have done it at her age.
I don’t think I could have unhesitatingly rejoiced at the idea that God was doing something through me that would so dramatically change the world.
But hearing her song… I can join in the rejoicing.
I can recognize the beauty of her vision of what God is doing through a young, marginalized, unmarried mother.
I can, haltingly but faithfully, long for the disruption that she proclaims.
And I can even be glad that God’s work of Holy Disruption is still on-going… still the meaning of this Advent season of preparation… still the song that we are called to sing and to embody when we are blessed to be a blessing.
Thanks be to God