December 15th, 2009
By N. Gerald Shenk, Professor of Church and Society, EMS
Read: Luke 1:39-56
A Muslim graduate student, American-born and trained at Catholic schools in Detroit, spoke in my class one year. Wearing traditional garb, she was young and fluent and passionate about her commitment to seeking peace and justice. Among many other unexpected contributions to our understanding, she surprised my seminary students with her devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The longest chapter in the Qur’an, she pointed out, is filled with praise for Mary (“Mariam”) and her holy life. Our guest was more confident about the virgin birth of Jesus than many of the theologians one studies in other courses.
This intercultural episode captured more of the story than a hundred Hallmark cards could ever present. There is a deliberate dislocation of our expectations, a disruption of our confident patterns, when the Holy One intervenes with unlikely suspects and intrudes onto bucolic landscapes with justice and restoration of right relationships in mind. The blessings of Abraham, the mighty acts known to foregoing generations of those who fear the Lord, the remembrance of God’s mercy and promises to ancestors—all these add up to a blazing confidence that God has not forgotten the poor and the lowly. As Holly Near puts it, “The meek are getting ready!”
This is a tribute to the God who is not undisturbed by the rising tide of un-right-ness in our world. There will be an end to the arrogance of the proud and self-sufficient. There is great mercy at work in the neighborhood, and the world will not be unchanged. How can we not rejoice with this Maccabean maid! The unborn and the wizened old woman join the song.
This is what it looks like when God fulfills centuries of promises, appearing in the most unlikely venues, a forgotten corner of empire. But the subversive new vision of right-hearted justice puts all things into new focus. Can we also catch this vision, join this song? May it be true afresh among us this season of eager expectancy.