Elizabeth and Mary live in a world run by the ruthless and strong. Augustus Caesar sits on the imperial throne in Rome, Herod the Great sits on the throne in Jerusalem. They are brutal tyrants running the world as they want, as they see fit, to their own advantage. But Mary and Elizabeth believe that God is about to act to establish a new way of running the world that will put the bullies out of business and finally give the meek a chance.
The time was during the Pax Romana. The Peace of Rome. This was just a euphemism, imperial propaganda. It was a time of peace and a booming economy FOR ROME. Maybe you have heard the phrase, all roads lead to Rome. Yes, all roads lead to Rome so they could plunder the world and take all the loot back to Rome It was a time of peace and prosperity gained through conquest and looting. It is not the way of God and Mary knows it. This little 14 year old revolutionary knows that this is not the way of God so she dares to prophesy that God is about to act and do something about it.
Mary’s song is in keeping with the long tradition of the Hebrew prophets. You know the Hebrew prophets. They were mostly poets and songwriters of sorts who would write subversive poetry. They would look at the world, see something wrong, and write what we would call protest songs about what was wrong in the world. Then they would offer imagination of what it will be like when God intervenes, when God turns injustice into justice, when God flips the tables, flips the script, and puts the brutal bullies and tyrants out of business and gives those on the ash heap of society a chance. That’s Amos, Obadiah, and Habakkuk. That’s Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. That’s who the Hebrew prophets were and what they did.
One thing we struggle to understand is that prophecy is not primarily a prediction of future events. Despite the billion dollar industries created around end time prophecy, despite the millions being made by those peddling end times prophecy as a predictor of 21st century political events, this is not the primary purpose of prophecy. Prophecy is primarily a critique of present structures with an alternative vision for the future. Prophesy says this is what’s wrong with the world with a vision for how God can set it right. This is why prophecy tends to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Some are comforted, some are not, depends on where we are on current global scale. If you are in Bangladesh, or Mogadishu, or Haiti, you might here a prophecy about the world being turned upside down and the last being first and the first being last and scream out “I like this prophet! Let me hear more of how this script is going to change and I’ll be given a chance!” But if you’re in a Manhattan skyscraper, or a Capitol Hill condo, or even a Southern Maryland subdivision sitting on your recliner and your PJs drinking coffee with your feet up, you might not be so excited. You might think “Hey, maybe we can tweak some things, we’re not perfect, but we don’t need to totally rethink everything. First last, last first? Let’s not go too crazy here!”
This is why a year later Mary and David run for their lives. If your saying the mighty king will be cast down and the weak and powerless lifted up, those mighty ones might fight back. “That prophecy says what?”
So the angel comes again to Joseph – “Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”” Matthew 2:13 ESV. Rise, don’t wait ‘til morning.
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.””
Jesus was born into a world where innocents are too often slaughtered, from Bethlehem to New Town to Columbine to Sandy Hook. He was sent to this world where our innocents are so often slaughtered to save us from our ways of death.
Look at Mary’s prophecy again. First shes prophesying her own blessing, which her cousin Elizabeth had also declared. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. Then it’s like a movie where the camera pans back to the wider world. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
Mary is standing in whole company of Israel. She represents here the whole of people of Israel, the lowly servant of lord through whom salvation is born.
How does this happen? Mary prophesies that big changes are coming. She prophesies revolution. The poor and humble will be lifted up. The mighty and powerful will be toppled. The poor and hungry will be satisfied, the rich sent away. This is radical. It will get the death squads sent out into the districts.
How is it to be accomplished? Will it be done by chopping the heads of the bad guys? That’s what everyone thought. When u say everyone, i mean everyone. Mary, John the Baptist, Zechariah, Elizabeth, the Pharisees, Caiaphas, Pilate. They all thought Jesus would do the revolutionary thing and start chopping heads. We need to chop the heads and kill the bad guys so that the world can be set right and we can be on top.
But when Jesus starts his ministry and does something truly revolutionary, preaching “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you”, nobody could understand what was going on. The could not believe it.
John the Baptist, for one, stops leaping. Remember how he leaped in his mother’s womb? Remember how John was the one to declare “There is the lamb if God who takes away the sin of the world. There’s the Messiah”. Well, John doesn’t get it, he stops leaps, stops shouting. He sends messengers to ask “”…Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”” Matthew 11:3 ESV. Even his mother would basically ask him “are you crazy?”
Mary’s prophecy is about the reign of god that her son is about to bring into the world. When this happens, the proud, the powerful, the rich will not be given their accustomed positions of privilege. They are used to being in charge, setting the rules of the game. Ever been playing a game and been suspicious someone is setting the rules of the game their advantage?
Sometimes it seems the whole world is like this. The proud, powerful and rich have a sense of entitlement that we are the ones. We play the game but we always win. But in Mary’s prophecy the proud, powerful, and rich are not given their accustomed position of privilege.
Who actually opposed Jesus? The proud, powerful, the rich. The proud Pharisees – “we know the Bible and we know who’s in and who’s out. We definitely know that we are in and you are out.”
The powerful – the Sadducees, the ones ran temple, the priestly class. They have a great center of power in the temple. But Jesus protests their temple.
The rich – the Herodians and Hasmoneans, those for whom the present arrangement was very advantageous, they were very happy with the status quo, thank you very much. These all fought Jesus.
Who flocked to Jesus? Lepers, the moral outcasts, tax collectors, the sick, the poor, prostitutes, sinners. The ones who had always been left out, left on the bottom and shunned, these are drawing near to Jesus. The great reversal is occurring. The rich and powerful are fighting Jesus, but they are toppling and falling. The poor and the sick…suddenly they are being lifted up and it’s happening before our very eyes, the new kingdom is coming.
These humble and hungry are blessed in Jesus sermon on the mount – the poor, mourning, the meek, the persecuted, the merciful, the pure, the hungry the peacemakers. Mary’s song and Jesus’ beatitudes pretty much say the same thing. There has been a seismic shift in world.
To do justice for poor sick and oppressed is now a requirement for rulers of this world. Jesus judges whole world right now. Consciously or unconsciously we compare every ruler, every president, every prime minister to Jesus. He really is king. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, president of presidents, prime minister of prime ministers. If they don’t act justly and care for the weak, the sick, the poor as Jesus would we tell them it’s time to go, they get voted out of office, revolutions break out. It’s the seismic shift the coming of Christ into the world brings.
“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.”
Luke 1:39-56 ESV