Here in the final couple days of the blogging challenge my friend Rachel and I took on for Advent, I looked at the suggested texts for the day and found myself staring again at Mary's song, the Magnificat. Crap, I thought, I already wrote about this passage a couple weeks ago. In fact, Rachel and I both wrote about a similar song from the Old Testament woman, Hannah as well. I wondered what I could possibly say about it that we hadn't already said.
Ah, but then I started writing and the truth came out.
And Mary said,
I’m bursting with God-news;
I’m dancing the song of my Savior God…
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
--Selections from Luke 1:46-55 (The Message)
Some people I know…i.e. members of my immediate family… keep asking me what I want for Christmas. I tell them I don’t know…I tell them I really, really don’t want anything. I've just been feeling lately like I have too much, already. Plus, the way things are in the world right now…in our country…it just seems…wrong, somehow, to even think about “stuff.” A new sweater? A pair of earrings? A new pair of boots (ok, well, I do like boots, and I live in Chicago, so there might be something to think about there… but really, no, I have plenty of boots.)
My loved ones look askance at me when I say this, I suspect because they suspect that if there are no presents under the tree for me on Christmas morning I might not be all that happy.
I might put on a good show, of course, but not too far under the surface I will be feeling like no one really knows me, notices me, cares about me.
They will possibly remember the Christmas a few years ago when my husband Gary (bless his heart) gave me a really, really nice space heater because I was often complaining about being cold. And it was an impressive one, modern, well-designed - it looked like the space heater that they would have had on the ship from the movie, 2001 A Space Odyssey, if they’d needed a space heater on a space ship.
This was a top of the line, highly technically advanced obelisk of a space heater, promising things like “long-range powerful airflow…” and “precise, energy efficient, ambient heating…”
I hated it. I mean I really appreciated the fact that Gary wanted to find something that would take care of my “I’m always cold” issue. But, a super duper space heater? On Christmas?
It might have been what I needed but it wasn’t what I wanted. It didn’t seem fun. It didn’t seem sexy. It didn’t shout “You are amazing and I adore you,” to me. It was expensive and sleek and probably the coolest space heater you could ever get, but still...
Gary, who has been married to me for a very long time, could tell I wasn’t thrilled, pretty quickly. So I admitted to him that while it was a wonderful thought, it made me feel sad and could we please take it back? He tried to explain its space-heater-extraordinaire virtues to me, one more time, and I agreed with all of them…but, really…no.
I guess I started thinking about that story again when reading Mary’s Magnificat this morning because I realized that the world Mary sings about and envisions is God’s idea of the most wonderful Christmas gift imaginable. That’s the gift Jesus was born to bring to us.
The gift of a world where the hungry are sitting at the banquet table. The marginalized are no longer pushed aside, terrorized, brutalized. The tyrants are no longer in charge, and the rich are out on the cold, hard pavement.
And I see the obvious benefits of this gift. I really do.
But as a woman who has grown up with white skin, been able to get a decent education and find good employment, who has managed to live in a relatively safe neighborhood with good schools…deep in this part of me I like to keep quiet about most of the time…it’s sometimes hard to see how this gift shouts, “You are amazing and I adore you,” to ME.
I mean, I want this kind of world…at least a big part of me does.
But I’m going to say this, and I say it with great shame:
This gift sometimes makes me feel very uncomfortable. And vulnerable. And sad.
Because, no I don’t actually, deep down, in my core, completely trust that this gift that Jesus brings us is gonna make my eyes light up on Christmas morning. Because this gift is about change. It's a gift of total upheaval.
I’ll be honest, I worry about this, because even though I work and pray and speak out for justice, I have noticed how it doesn't always feel good when I get pushed to change, pushed to see my own blind spots, pushed to see how the things that seem like they are holding me together, might actually be chains, holding me back from something better.
Not long ago, for example, I spent most of a day unable to stop crying after I had, in my mind, been trying to do something “good” for the world, but was told by a black woman working with me on the project that what I had done wasn’t good enough.
It actually wasn’t good enough.I was blinded by my straight, white person privilege. And what she said needed to be said. I just wish she could have said it to me more kindly, gently, more sensitively…but who knows, maybe the truth always hurts before it sets you free.
Today I’ve been listening again to “O Holy Night.” This old Christmas carol is so beautiful. And yet, if you really listen, it also includes a picture of the world Mary envisioned in her song:
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for we’re all sisters and brothers;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
So yeah, today... I pray I have the courage to want the gift Jesus came to give...an upside down world where love is the law, and all chains are broken… even mine. And to believe that gift will be better than anything I could ever ask for or imagine.
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During Advent my friend Rachel and I decided to write a devotional-ish kind of thing every day. To learn more about that, read this.
If you'd like to read more about white privilege, this is a good article, especially, if like me, you don't come from wealth.