Fourth Sunday of Advent
Simple things can remind us of God’s presence. It may be the delight of meeting someone who we have not seen for some time or brightens our life. Today, we notice that God enters our world through the least - the forgotten ones, those who do not to count or matter, the lowly, unnoticed. Israel’s history and the prophets show that God works among the small and apparent insignificant to accomplish big things. In Luke’s gospel, God’s word overlooked those in power but came to John the Baptist. Micah speaks of the smallness of Bethlehem and what emerged there. He suggests that we look to the peripheries of importance to find God's work.
This is in contrast to contemporary economic systems and governments, where more is better, maximisation of profit is the ethic, where survival of the fittest is lauded, where bigger is better, power is prized, where conquest shows greatness, and imperialism is a sign of blessing and worth. In Mary (and Elizabeth) we see that hope and joy are offered in the quiet and insignificant places of our lives especially when we sit with those who are considered to be the least. Commenting on Tolstoy's War and Peace, Jimmy Carter once said that ‘the course of human events, even the greatest historical events, are not determined by the leaders of nations or states but come about by the combined wisdom, courage, commitment, discernment, unselfishness, compassion and idealism of the common ordinary people’. This is true of the Sant'Egidio Community, and true of members of Pax Christi operating in violent places and still commitment to nonviolence, and true of Médecins Sans Frontières who risk their lives for the sake of vulnerable and hurting people. This is true of many youth and non-government organisations that protest the war on our earth. It is true of. The sign of hope is where the people call for change when leaders are numb, apathetic or self-interested.
Through Luke, we enter the world of women who are actually named. They are not just a mother, daughter or wife. Interestingly, there is not even a male voice as Elizabeth and Mary praise the one who liberates the oppressed. They bring their creativity to change our world. They are not submissive stereotypes limited to pregnancy, childbirth, and child raising. They cannot be locked away in obscurity. Mary’s Song (The Magnificat) that follows today’s gospel passage, highlights God’s creativity in the weak and marginal people. Mary expresses her delight as she embraced the calling of being ‘other’ than what society considered normative. She welcomed ‘otherness’ because God was doing something new and powerful in her world. Like many minority people in our society, she understands the burden of ‘otherness’, of being different. This is how God works though her to transform the social structures that dominate the world.
In Manhattan, the trial continues of Ghislaine Maxwell for alleged complicity in the sexual assault of girls procured for billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. But there is no holding to account of the powerful and wealthy men who were present or participated in this affair - from Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Bill Richardson, Stephen Pinker, Prince Andrew, Alan Dershowitz, Ehud Barack and many others. Not on trial are the media, politicians and the entertainment industry who tried to aggressively and viciously shut down and discredited the few voices who sought to shine a light on these crimes committed by Epstein and his circle of accomplices are not on trial. Epstein’s death in a New York jail cell, whether it was suicide or murder, and with Maxwell sacrificed, the powerful again escape justice. This case is a window into male violence that explodes in decayed cultures, fueled by widening income disparities, the collapse of the social contract and the grotesque entitlement that comes with celebrity, political power, and wealth. The struggle for equal pay, equal distribution of wealth and resources, access to welfare, legal aid that offers adequate protection under the law, social services, job training, healthcare, and education services, have been so degraded they barely exist for the poor, especially poor girls and women. This is always the goal of patriarchy. And in this degraded world girls and women are easy prey for sexual abuse, sexual violence and human trafficking. These victims not seen as children or young women in distress but as unworthy of consideration. The powerless have a dearth of resources available to them unlike the resources available to the powerful. The struggle for liberation and justice by women is central to the struggle for liberation and justice for everyone. We will not resist the radical evil before us without women, if we are denied access to the ideas and leadership of women, and in particular women of color. So, while we must decry violence and exploitation against all of the oppressed, we must also recognize that male violence against women is an especially insidious form of violence. It is a tool of corporate domination and capitalism. It is engrained in the racism and exploitation of imperialism and colonialism. But it also exists outside the structures of capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism. All forms of life, including the Earth, must be revered and protected. A different vision of human society is needed. It means building a world where domination and ceaseless exploitation, in all its forms, are condemned, where empathy, especially for the weak and for the vulnerable is held up as the highest virtue. It means recovering the capacity for awe and reverence for the sacred sources that sustain life. Once we stand up for this ethic of life, once we include all people, including girls and women, as integral to this ethic, we can resist the radical evil before us. It means that the other half of the human population, girls and women, are at our side, where their fight is our fight, their justice our justice, and their freedom is our freedom. Today’s readings call the church to recognise God’s presence and action through women in spite of, or even because of the way they are excluded from official positions of power and prestige.
Mary was not just another unfortunate unwed mother bringing a child into an unsympathetic world. Elizabeth was not just an old woman whose unexpected pregnancy surprised and shocked her husband and relatives. We see here women giving life to the good news in the presence of a silenced priesthood. Here a young woman reaches out to care for another and finds mutual support. I see this among the wonderful women who are striving to make Australia free from human trafficking. We see this in elderly people who form the backbone of many families and communities as they serve and care in parishes, community centres, hospitals and nursing homes, as they care and educate the young and people whose first language is not English, as they stand up to harsh and inhumane policies towards asylum seekers and refugees, as they engage in peacemaking and caring for the earth, and as they listen compassionately to the stories of the needy, the humiliated and wounded.
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth poses some important questions. Who are we listening to? Which voices greet us with peace? Who do we visit? Who do we aid in time of distress and need? Do we see who is caught in the web of the world’s distrust, exclusion, and violence such as refugees, Muslims, First Nation people, homeless people, people living with mental illness, youth, and LGBTIQ people? Where do we stand with the so-called ‘illegals’, sinners, the expendables and unwanted? Is there room for the Word made flesh in our everyday living as we strive to be people of peace? Do we believe peace begins with us rather than the other? Micah refers to the one who comes who ‘will be peace’ (5:5a). Jesus’ birth is best celebrated by a commitment to his way of peace. It begins by small daily actions of peace.
We are called to engage our little corner of the world and try to feel the pain of people and seek to address it. Like Mary we can be Christ-bearers to one another. As Meister Eckhart, the 13th century German mystic, says: ‘We are all called to be mothers of God – for God is always waiting to be born.’ The ancient biblical story we have just heard must become our story, with its abundant grace and costly responsibility. God chooses us to remind those in power and the wealthy to move towards greater solidarity with those on the underside. God is speaking to both those who are insignificant and marginalised and the powerful to remind us that we are brothers and sisters and that our hope for a new world of peace comes from being in solidarity. Each of us carries God’s life within us to be a source of blessing for others and be companions to one another. We are the ones we have been waiting for