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The Second Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:2-5a & Luke 1:39-55
A common tension during this time of year regards music. Clergy are trained and taught to save the singing Christmas Carols until Christmas comes, in order to emphasize the great birth story [LINK to article]. Yet we all love those carols. What’s your favorite? Why? It’s a choice that often creates disagreement. I think it’s because of the power of music, in particular of carols. Today we often hear more singing about “rocking around the Christmas Tree” or “Grandma getting run over by a reindeer.” But this music of Noel powerfully calls us home, one which God is preparing for us all in and through Christ.
Micah speaks hope to the despair of the people of Israel with a thrilling clarity and power. When he writes, Jerusalem is under siege. (“Now you are walled around with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel upon the cheek.” Micah 5:1) The Jewish king has been humiliated. All seems lost. The people see no hope. Micah stubbornly illuminates the darkness with this promising word of a strong ruler, issued from the family of King David, who will set all things right. And this ruler is portrayed not as a charismatic militaristic tyrant but as a peaceful shepherd caring for a restored community.
We immediately think Christmas and think of the manger scene when we hear this passage. Yet it was ushered in a time when a foreign power was threatening life as the Israelites knew it. (735 BCE). King David had been dead for over three centuries. Israel was threatened by the terrorizing power of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Within 30 years the Assyrian king Sennacherib had would defeat the Northern Kingdom (Israel) in 722 deporting most of its inhabitants, including its king. In 701 he would utterly destroy the southern kingdom of Judah. In these decades of terrorism and war, Assyria was undermining the religious affirmations of the Israelites; destabilizing the order that they knew in their society; making their leaders look foolish. This Messiah will come not to wipe out the world, but to restore and liberate it. He will not come as a religious fanatic or extremist; but as the author and creator of peace – for the whole world, and all the peoples (to the ends of the earth). When civilizations rise in war and violence, they will eventually be dissolved and destroyed by the same means. The Messianic One will create a new earth and a new heaven.
This poetic selection of Luke 1 is commonly know as the “Song of Mary” or the “Magnificat.” Have these words become so familiar to us that they are like a foreign language? Do you hear the radical message of a wild hope and a turning upside down of the whole world that Mary sings of? Mary’s song is the first of three that are retold by Luke in the telling of the birth of Jesus. In Luke 1:68-79 we hear the “Benedictus” – the song of Zechariah describing the changing of the world to come through the preaching of his just-born son John (the future baptizer). In Luke 2:29-35 we hear the “Nunc Dimmitts” the song of salvation and contentment of Simeon when he meets the young messiah. We skip over these parts without sitting with the interweaving narratives and poetry that prophetically invite us to worship the Holy One then, and now. It calls to memory (if you know the Bible well) other such songs of God’s deliverance and saving love: the Song of Miriam in Exodus 15, the Song of Deborah in Judges 5 and specifically the song of Hannah at the miraculous birth of her son Samuel (the great priest to be) in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Is it any wonder that Christmas music can communicate so much verbally and nonverbally to us?
Questions for Going Deeper: