Occasional Thoughts and Meditations by Urbandale UCC’s lay leaders. These opinions do not represent official positions of the church but only those of the authors.
Tom Rendon (past moderator and Leadership Team Member)
Hearing the familiar words of the Magnificat which is read every Advent, brought immediately to mind the tax bill President Trump signed into law on December 22nd. The President told us this was going to be a Christmas present to the American people, but I think it really was more of an anti-Magnificat. The Magnificat, as everyone knows, is Mary’s praise hymn that reflects the redeeming works of God for the lowly, and is a traditional fourth Sunday of Advent reading. Its vision of justice and a restitution of right relations within a society, that is marked by the lowly and the mighty, is a moving testimony of Mary’s faith in a God that cares about those at the bottom. The tax bill, according to every credible source I read, will be an extravagant gift to the most wealthy (see for example here, here and here). What was Mary thinking?
What would the Magnificat say if it was sung, not by an unwed, pregnant teenager from a working class family, but by Herod, Caesar and the powerful of her day or our day? What would be the words of the Anti-Magnificat. Maybe something like:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the upper classes.
Surely, everyone will call us blessed
for the Mighty One has done great things for us, and God’s name is holy.
God’s mercy is for those who are feared from generation to generation.
God has shown strength through the strength of a powerful military; he has scattered the humble too weak to properly look after themselves.
He has made homeless even those who barely had a roof over their heads
And the powerful have been lifted up to the penthouse suite or into the skies on tax-deductable corporate jets.
He has filled the rich with good things, and sent the hungry away empty.
He has helped make America the richest nation in the history of the world so we wouldn’t forget in whom to trust, according to the promise he made to founding fathers when they wanted this country to be a Christian nation, a city on a hill and the envy of the world.”
As absurd as this is to read, it is the hymn of praise that echoes in the corridors of power today. Many Christians, in fact, do look at every sign of prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing, and by implication (but often left unsaid) that the poor are so because they are undeserving and being punished. God does, at times appear to favor the upper classes, after all they are so much better off than the 99 percent. And that status quo is holy, and its maintenance is a matter of sacred duty.
When you look at all the things that have happened this year at the hands of the most powerful person in the world, from banning Muslims, escalating deportation, getting the dirtiest oil flowing through the Keystone XL pipeline, and walking away from climate accords, to praising racists, dictators and murderers, and bringing us closer to nuclear war, doesn’t it seem as though God is showing mercy to the merciless?
When the strong become stronger, the rich become richer, the powerful become even more powerful, are we moving in the right direction? Even the faithful have to wonder where God is. When inequality grows and the few supports that do exists to correct the imbalance or salve the wounds of its vicitim are diminished or dismantled, when food pantries are closing their doors because they have run out of food, God appears to feed the rich and send the poor empty away.
What all this says to me is either Mary was hopelessly naïve or on to some hidden secret about how the world really works. It says we need to choose every day in which God we will trust: the God of the Anti-Magificat who blesses the rich and forsakes the poor. Or the God of the Magnificat who lifts up the lowly and scatters the proud. It says that we must preach the real gospel which is good news to the poor and not so much to the rich (though in the end it really is). It says we must discover for ourselves the presence of God in every moment of compassion for those who are sick, hungry, naked and imprisoned (Matthew 25: 31-46). These are acts of faith in a God who really does care about the poor and intends to do something about their plight.
And isn’t this what Christmas is all about? The Word made flesh. The justice of God moving from a beautiful idea to a compassionate act. A God of idealism becoming practical. At Christmas, God makes a promise that the human realities of the poor are what is most important, hence the baby in a manger surrounded by peasants. And yet also news of “great joy for all people,” not just the rich. The real Magnificat where God’s greatness and majesty are manifest in acts of justice that lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things.
People of faith must proclaim the good news of the Magnificat that Mary knows will be born soon, and decry the false anti-Magnificat that so many are celebrating or fearing today. Let us oppose to the anti-magnificat of continued political and economic dominance of a few, and instead magnify the Lord of justice who has shown preference for the poor. Let’s us all sing with Mary, and make her dreams good news for all of us.