Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent 4: Magnificat

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

The 4th Sunday of Advent we remember Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-55)  and the joyful Song of Mary, the Magnificat. Mary's song begins with praising God and talking 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.

The Magnificat has come to us through the centuries not only in Scripture but in beautiful choral settings. While an analysis of the song reveals these three parts, it has an integrity to it that suggests that we should be careful not to take one part of this passage without the others. We tend to focus on the relationship between Mary and God or on the fulfillment of the promise to Israel, but the inversion of the economic and political order will be omitted in the preaching or teaching in many churches tomorrow morning.

The effects of climate change are especially harsh for people in less wealthy developing countries. Perhaps tellingly as we speak reverently of Mary the mother, some studies say that climate change impacts differ by gender as well as by location; women in developing countries are especially vulnerable to these impacts. (See Impacts on Vulnerable Populations on the EPA webpage about international impacts and adaptation in reference to climate change.)

In Mary’s song, we hear her joyful faith in God’s mercy and in God’s love for those lacking power and privilege. People in developing countries suffer from climate change that results from greenhouse gas emissions from industrialized countries.  Where is our merciful and loving God when the needs of some of the poorest people in the world are 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. There are people working hard to end this injustice and mitigate climate change to ensure a better future for all of us who share this planet. Activists are pushing for institutions to divest from the fossil fuel industry; others are working to stop the mining of tar sands and to prevent the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry tar sands from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico; others continue to press our politicians to pass legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  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.

The November State of the Climate Report from NOAA is not encouraging. Among other things, there was this:
The 10 coolest Novembers on record all occurred prior to 1920. November 2012 also marks the 36th consecutive November and 333rd consecutive month with global temperature higher than the long-term average. The last month with a below average temperature was February 1985, nearly 28 years ago.
 And even though it’s hard to imagine on this chilly weekend in Nebraska, 2012 is expected to end up as the warmest year ever recorded for the United States. 

None of this makes our efforts so far look successful, but then Mary’s baby in the manger didn't look like a king. God works with and through whatever is available. What is available to God are people – scientists, activists, people of faith – who are willing to look at the science of climate change, look at the people who are affected first and worst by climate change, and then do what we can to change things. Mary had no power or influence, and yet because of her faith, God was able to use Mary to change everything for all of us.

While this week’s blizzard made travel difficult and caused some hardship, the moisture is welcome and the beauty of snow-covered fields, especially in the sunny days since the blizzard, has given us an opportunity to renew our joy in God’s creation. Our souls might well magnify the Lord out of sheer joy!

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 each of us to speak and act.