January 16, 2021

Scott Lencke: Advent – Flipping the Script

Advent: Flipping the Script
By Scott Lencke

Welcome to the new year. Not the calendar new year, but the church’s new year that begins with the season of Advent. This is our rhythm in which we both remember the coming of God’s Messiah so long ago, but also we longingly hope for the coming of Jesus once again to make all things new. As Robert Webber reminds us in his book Ancient-Future Time:

The church has been entrusted with the meaning of all time. The world does not know the meaning of its own history, but the church does. Through the discipline of the Christian year, the church proclaims the meaning of time and of the history of the world.

The church tells time differently and with genuine purpose. We do not need to despise our cultural calendar (nor an academic or fiscal calendar). Yet, the people of God proclaim a story through a different rhythm.

With the ushering in of Advent, I want to first turn to Mary’s song—what we call “The Magnificat.”

Following the visit of the angel Gabriel, Mary hurriedly made her way to Elizabeth’s home. In that encounter, one of blessing declared by Elizabeth, this is the song that poured forth from Mary’s lips:

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors. (Luke 1:46-55)

What is worth noting is that, with the arrival of God’s Messiah, we are told a significant exchange would take place. There would be a great reversal, which is actually a theme that carries throughout Luke’s Gospel account.

A new day was dawning, one in which the proud would be scattered, rulers would be brought down, and the rich would be sent away empty. With that, the humbled would now be lifted up, the hungry would be filled with good things, mercy would be extended to those who fear him.

You see, this is none other than the way of the one true God. And it was going to make some people very uncomfortable.

Of course, it is! It lines up exactly with the story told leading up to Jesus’s arrival. If there is one thing that upsets God, and I mean really upsets him, it is the oppression and heinous treatment of others. This is the story of the Exodus. This is the ringing voice of the prophets. This is the song of Mary.

She was an embodiment of this message herself, both in her personal life but also as the bearer of the divine Son (what we call Theotokos). As the humble, she would be lifted up, encountering the boundless mercy of God as one who displayed an awesome reverence of Yahweh.

And just a few decades later, Jesus would enact this prophetic song of Mary through his own words and actions. Matter of fact, his ministry would launch with a similarly themed song from Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

As we enter this season of waiting and anticipatory hope, let us remember that a real hope arrived in Jesus, one that would “flip the script,” if you will. As I state in my newest work Reflections of Immanuel:

American Christianity has become predominantly product-based (supplying those who already have much) rather than servant-based (emptying ourselves on behalf of others who have little).

Perhaps we can move through this Advent season remembering that God has called for a great reversal, a flipping of the script. And let us consider as well how we may be the words and hands of Christ himself—to the prisoner, to the blind, to the oppressed. This is the way of the coming kingdom. This is the way of the coming Messiah.

Comments

  1. “And your mercy will last from the Depths
    Of the past to the end of the age to be . . . ”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trhxP6VAOuc

  2. –> “American Christianity has become predominantly product-based (supplying those who already have much) rather than servant-based (emptying ourselves on behalf of others who have little).”

    Sadly, as a procrastinating narcissist, I find myself drifting in that direction more often than I’d like.

    Lord, have mercy on me. Help me be more like you.

  3. Burro (Mule) says

    This holiday season, with so much turmoil and difficulty baked in, we are looking at doubling our family’s charitable giving. For the first time in our lives, this will come close to creating some actual discomfort in our budget. Incredible that despite our life-long profession of Christianity we have never been here before.

    Despite this, I have a suspicious feeling that increased generosity on the part of those in a position to do so falls short of what our Lady sang about in her Advent song. Its hard to avoid the idea that she was describing some kind of redistributive policy, albeit metaphysically rather than politically engineered.

    For somebody who has always seen Micah 4:4 and Psalm 144:12-15 as the pinnacle of terrestrial felicity in this present devil-ridden age, its hard not to read the Magnificat and smell Bolshevism.

    • Christiane says

      Hey Burro, you’ve got it: Mary’s ‘song’ is one of the most revolutionary proclamations ever.

      For sure, Mary wasn’t a cheerleader for the ‘wealthiest among us’, no. In her day, a ‘trickle down’ economy would have meant the opportunity to glean from a harvested field, and in all honesty, that ‘s not exactly too far from the ‘trickle down’ promises of today’s heavy-duty conservative capitalists.

      Mary wouldn’t be welcomed down at the Church of Trump, no. Too ‘socialist’ for the likes of them, sure.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        I am far from a left winger.

        Christian socialism, for me, stems from a feeling of family. Every healthy family proceeds on the dictum ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need – he who gathered much had no surplus and she who gathered little had no lack’, yet every family has that Uncle Harvey and Aunt Rita with the house full of kids who are no good with money and always have to be bailed out. Eventually, the ‘tough love’ kicks in and boundaries are set, Families, for all their dysfunction, are infinitely better at this than a nation, a city, or even a parish.

        Yet it is clearly our Lord’s intention that the family circle be extended to to the limits of the human world, maybe even beyond. I don’t have the resources for that and I am uncomfortable guilt-manipulating others into it.

        • I disagree that families are infinitely better at it than other institutions. More frequently than we may like to admit, families function like destructive cults, from which the only escape is into a wider, more anonymous society.

          • Burro (Mule) says

            To be in a position where anonymity is an improvement for me is like dying and going to Hell and not noticing the difference.

            I did a five year stint as a government family services worker and I couldn’t get those kinds of people out of my office fast enough.

            • Families themselves can be Hell, and it is not uncommon to not notice that one’s family is Hell until one has had a good look at a wider world. There are plenty of former Mennonite folks in my area that opted for more anonymity instead of sticking with the Hell of their kinship cults.

            • David Greene says

              “I did a five year stint as a government family services worker…”

              I cannot imagine too many things more torturous than that. 🙁

        • Christiane says

          Oh, I don’t know. I personally know a lot of teachers who have bought lunches, coats, shoes, school supplies for children they taught, and this out of a teacher’s salary.

          I think we were suckers for kids: and now it’s much worse:

          it used to be that one in seven children in the USA had ‘hunger issues’;
          and now they figure the ratio is more like one in five. In THIS country,
          the wealthiest on the planet.

          You know, for all the hollering done about ‘preventing abortions’, there is precious little interest in the kids from a certain political group that could care less about funding enough for living children to eat decent meals.

          Okay to use ‘the abortion issue’ for right wing conservative politics;
          but is it REALLY something that holds up under closer examination in the wider sense of ‘right to life’ ?

          a quote from Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who was being interviewed by Bill Moyers in 2004, this:

          “”I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life.That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            There’s another factor in play, Christiane:
            Stopping Abortions by LAW means “There’s Somebody We Can PUNISH! PUNISH! PUNISH!”

            And nothing Virtue Signals MY Righteousness than PUNISHING! PUNISHING! PUNISHING! that Filthy Sinner over there.

            As long as you have that Oh-So-Delicious Satisfaction among The Righteous, it will always be by Law, the Power of the State, and the Rod of Iron.

            Look at the emphasis on Hell as a motivator in so many churches and sermons. If there were no Hell, no threat of Eternal PUNISHIMENT and Divine WRATH, a lot of Christians and churches would find themselves adrift at sea. And if your God is Divine WRATH, then being just as Wrathful against your personal enemies (real or imagined) becomes Righteousness.

    • Burro, yes, I am challenged by this reality. I came across these stats recently in a book by a Notre Dame Catholic professor.

      The world spends $45 billion annually on fragrances.
      The world spends $153 billion annually on toys & games.
      The world spends $5.5 billion PER DAY on military spending (the US leads that). That’s $1.74 trillion per year.

      Yet almost 5 billion people live off $10 per day ($3650 per year).

      Something doesn’t seem right.

  4. I don’t think I want the rich to go away empty, or hungry. I don’t want anyone to go away empty or hungry. I don’t think I would like an upside down kingdom, anymore than I like the upside up/downside down dispensation that exists now.

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