Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent 4: Magnificat

In churches this morning, we remember Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-55) and the joyful Song of Mary , the Magnificat. The first part of Mary’s song praises God and talks about what God has done for her; the middle of the song describes God’s inversion of the economic and political order – casting down the mighty while lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things while the rich are sent away empty -- and it ends with a reminder of God’s promise of mercy. It’s a song about God creating something that’s very new and yet grounded in God’s eternal care and love for God’s people.

Our Daily Office lessons yesterday included Christ’s clear call in Matthew 25 to care for people who are poor, sick, powerless, or lonely. Whenever we do something to serve “the least of these” we are serving Christ; whenever we ignore the needs of the least of these, we turn our backs on Christ. It was in many ways a fitting lesson for the end of the Copenhagen climate conference. The politics of the conference dictated an outcome that keeps the nations in conversation about climate change and leaves the door open for a significant agreement at some unspecified time in the future, but it also leaves people in poorer nations that are already feeling negative effects from climate change where they were at the beginning of the conference. The wealthier nations like the United States, aware of the lack of political will back home to do the hard work of making deep cuts in carbon emissions, negotiated this the way we do other issues.

Compromise is a grand thing, and a few tentative first steps can be claimed as a political victory on many issues, but the physics of climate change doesn’t leave any room for political expediency or compromise. Just as not making a decision is a sort of decision in itself, so declaring ourselves favorable to the idea of making some undefined cuts in carbon emissions without making the commitment to deep change that science tells us is necessary is a decision to turn our backs through our inaction on those who are harmed first and worst by climate change.

One dynamic of this conference was that President Obama did not have a clean energy bill from our Congress to show a real commitment from Americans. The Senate will be debating this legislation in coming weeks and months. Today’s Omaha World Herald has an op-ed piece signed by several of us Nebraska clergy that articulates why climate change is a faith issue that calls for our attention.

In Mary’s song, we hear her joyful faith in God’s mercy and in God’s love for the least of these. Where is our merciful and loving God in the news from Copenhagen, when the needs of the least of these were sacrificed to the agendas of the rich and powerful? God’s promises endure; God calls us back again and again to live in harmony with God’s intentions for our world. Reports from Copenhagen talked about the crowds of people from all over the world who gathered every day and every night outside of the Bella Center, bringing the needs of the poor and vulnerable to the ears of those in power, and giving encouragement and support to the delegates from less powerful places. God is working through these people and through all of us whose words and actions bring the needs of all people – and all species – to the attention of the rest of the world.

This may not look like a success, just as Mary’s baby in the manger didn’t look like a king. God works with whatever is available, and what is available are people of faith who are willing to look at the science of climate change, and look at God’s children who will be most severely affected by climate change, and then do what we can to help. Mary had no power or influence, and yet because of her faith, God was able to use Mary to become Incarnate and change everything for all of us.

The weather in central Nebraska today was sunny and warmer than it has been in several days. With beautiful snow cover still on most of the fields, a big blue sky, and the sound of running water from melting ice and snow, our souls might well magnify the Lord out of sheer joy in God’s creation. Climate scientists tell us that this is a critical time for the future of our climate, and of the planet to which human life is adapted. This is the time for people of faith who find joy in God’s creation and comfort in God’s promises to listen carefully, watch carefully, and see where God is calling us to speak and act.