How do we respond when the future seems most bleak?
There are times when life is joyful, and facing the future is an easy task. We long for the good times to keep coming. We approach the new day with joy and gladness.
There are other days, however, when the future seems less secure. Days when our health is in question. Days when job security is lacking. Days when loneliness and broken promises rob our joy. Days when discrimination and persecution become more than we can bear. During these days, it is difficult to praise God. We want to praise God in the midst of the storm, but our minds and our hearts can’t force the words from our lips. In these moments, when the future seems most bleak, how do we respond?
Mary was in one of those moments when the future was bleak. She was an unwed pregnant teenager, whose fiance was considering breaking off the engagement, and living in a time when her prospects for future marriage, or support, were minimal. To make matters worse, she had left in haste from the only little town she had probably ever known to travel some seventy miles by foot into a distant hill country; in essence traveling to the wilderness. A time of great joy? Preposterous! Blessed by God? Hardly! Thus her response is unexpected.
My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. The one who is mighty has done great things for me.
Against hope, Mary chooses to believe in a good future. For generations the people of God have longed for something new. For generations, the brokenness of sin has left Israel longing for wholeness. For generations the hopelessness of separation from God has led to a great anticipation of the Messiah coming, and all nations streaming to Zion. Mary chooses to believe that day is now.
This won’t be the first time God has visited the people of God. The exodus, and the return from exile, were both great reversal moments. These were stories of slavery and abandonment, that become stories of great reversal as God broke into a bleak future and created something new. In Egypt, God heard the cries of an oppressed people, and with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, God broke into the story, brought Egypt to its knees, and rescued Israel drawing them back into relationship with God. In Babylon, God remembered a broken nation, and created a highway through the wilderness to bring them back home. These were stories of great reversal, as God did what seemed impossible. These were stories in which there seemed to be no prospect of good news, and God opened a way to start something new.
Mary chooses to believe that God is at work again. Mary sings songs of praise, even in the midst of a troubling future, for God has been gracious and looked on her with favor. Mary offers up hope that her future is bright, even when the reality around her says there is nothing to bring joy. She is thankful, in the midst of tragedy, because she believes God will reverse the present to bring about good news.
Yet even at this stage, Mary recognizes the reversal is not just for her, but for the whole world. God is doing something new for all people. The rich and powerful will be brought low, while the lowly and weak will be raised up. God’s mercy is for all who fear God. For God is remembering the promises, and God is doing something new.
Advent challenges us to embrace this great reversal. Advent challenges us to reimagine the way we see the world, and the way we react to what is happening. Advent challenges us to believe that God is working, even when every ounce of our humanity tells us that we can’t see God in the moment. Advent challenges us to remain faithful, no matter how dark or horrific our future seems, for God is righting the wrongs of the world and making all things new
We can’t see it in the moment! In the moment all we see is stress, pain, loneliness, and death. In the moment we see our struggles, and we are surrounded by, and become consumed with our struggles. In the moment we wonder if there will ever be hope, peace, or joy again. In the moment we have a hard time believing that God is still showing favor to us, because everything around us is pointing in the opposite direction.
But in Advent, we reimagine the world in which God is bringing about a great reversal. In this reimagined world, Mary’s Song is a testimony to a new God shaping reality. Mary’s Song is a witness that God’s promise to reverse the world is real, even now.
Therefore, when our future seems most bleak, Advent encourages us to dare to believe God is even in this moment reversing the fortunes of the world as the weak and lowly are raised, the powerful are brought low, and the world is being made right.
Thus we sing in both good times and bad, our souls magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior. For God has looked upon the lowly, and shown favor to us all.
Amen, Come Lord Jesus Come