As I wade into Advent, the days of waiting, expectation and longing, I think about Mary, the mother of Jesus. I have been reflecting on Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s announcement about the conception of her son (some of which comes from The Real Mary by Scot McKnight). There are two incredible things that Mary accepts in that account. She is given an incredible message that as a Hebrew woman certainly means shame and ridicule. Yet she says, “Let it be according to your word.” Then she turns to her cousin Elizabeth and launches into one of the greatest protest chants of the Bible, which is often called the Magnificat.
Here is what Mary accepts. Mary accepts that nothing has to change for her to be involved in God’s plan except for God to get in the mix. She didn’t have to earn a Masters in Social Work or Economics to analyze the problems in her society and come up with a solution. She didn’t work her way into the places of power in order to affect change. She remained a humble, common person brought even lower by God’s means of reaching out to us. Being part of God’s plan didn’t make her life better. It made it worse. She also didn’t need to be special. She only needed to be faithful and that is what the phrase “Let it be according to your word” shows, her faithfulness and trust in something so outrageous and difficult, yet true and good.
So, Mary accepts her own reality. She takes life and the world as it is and doesn’t expect it to magically change. She will suffer because of God’s plan. Yet she is also able to proclaim something totally unbelievable. She proclaims the Great Reversal in which God turns the world upside down and reverses the unjust ordering of the world. She didn’t pull this out of thin air. She would have heard the words of the prophets proclaiming just this. The incredible thing is that she accepts that this is the way things will be and that this is what God is doing in the world. It’s not abstract and it’s not future tense. This is what is happening.
How hard it is to accept both things, that my life is ordinary and that suffering and pain are part of life and that will not change no matter how much I pray or love God, AND that God involves me in God’s work of redemption and reconciliation in this world just as I am (without one plea). Perhaps it is my privilege that makes this so difficult, but that is a post in itself.
As I yearn and long for God to make things right, for life to have balance, meaning, purpose and fullness, may I also recognize that God is already here. Nothing has to change for God to show up, and just because nothing changes doesn’t mean God is absent. We proclaim a reality and truth that has already arrived and changed everything, yet life continues and remains ordinary and mundane. May we follow Mary’s example and proclaim “Let it be according to your word” somehow living between these two realities.
image from http://www.bcartfarm.com/visitation.html
A friend from seminary recently asked for some help with theme of creation care for a sermon and the coming church year. She even said, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of you sooner.” I have spent enough time and energy in this area to develop a reputation as someone she “should have thought of sooner.”
I scoured the archives for some relevant writings to share. I was thankful to have some of my past work on this blog to point her to. Hopefully it was helpful. I realized that everything I shared with her is several years old or more. There’s nothing wrong with that. One of my good friends only reads books that are over 20 years old, because often time sifts out the junk and leaves us with those things that are worthwhile and timeless.
But it leaves me wondering what I have to say today. What is it that I want or need to write today?
This story is similar to my own journey in understand the relationship of economics to the purpose and mission of the church.
We tried to imagine an economy informed by the narratives of scripture, one bearing witness to the reign of God. It would be made of the same ingredients as the dominant economy: the same money, jobs, buying and selling goods and services. We weren’t going to try to roll back to a subsistence economy, or a household economy, or barter, or self-reliance. What was needed, we thought, was an economy not based on the goals, values and practices of this age, but one based in the life and teachings of Jesus, as revealed through scripture and the life of Christian communities through the ages.
An economy driven by such a direction seemed to be one in which all are taken care of; none acquire wealth at the expense of the others; all have what they need to live on; excessive consumption is not valued but a shared communal life is; mutual dependence is pursued; true costs are measured; all are called on to participate; we avoid categories that place some in the role of service provider and others in the role of service recipient (volunteer, minister/ministry, needy…). We assume we have all we need to take care of each other as brothers and sisters, fellow members of Christ, the living expression of the grace and provision of God.
Excellent and challenging article that questions our assumptions about economics in the church while also offering some alternatives that we can begin to live out in our churches and communities. I’m proud to say that our community (though imperfectly) is already practicing these alternatives. I would add the sharing economy to the list of alternatives.
With the most recent downturn in the US economy, a veneer has been ripped away from the illusion that capitalism has a moral center. Ardent activists who had previously looked toward reforming capitalism’s abuses have awakened from a stupor and are now peeking into the system’s unequal profit mechanisms. It will take significant denial to continue to affirm the morality of our current system.
To me, it seems that as Christians, we have a responsibility to follow Christ’s example in our lives, and this includes economics. Christianity should not be associated with the seeking of profit and property, but with radical economic community and sharing. This was the economic vision of the earliest Christians, and it should also be for us today as society becomes more consumerist and the gap between rich and poor widens.