By Tyler McKenzie
Did you know that in the past century at least three countries outlawed the public recitation of Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)?
• Before the end of British rule over India, the Magnificat was prohibited from being sung in churches.
• In the 1980s, the Guatemalan government banned it because they believed Mary’s words provoked revolutionary zeal.
• And the military dictatorship that ruled in Argentina from 1976 to 1983 also banned the Magnificat. During that time, those in command “disappeared” 30,000 people. Mothers created signs emblazoned with the names of their abducted children and Mary’s song and took them to the capital plaza. Rulers soon outlawed its public display.
The sweet song of the blessed mother of Jesus banned? There must be a misunderstanding! Why would this Christmas carol strike such fear in the hearts of kings and tyrants? What’s so threatening about a holiday song? If you’re asking those questions, perhaps you are the one who has misunderstood.
To the poor, oppressed, and victimized, the Magnificat’s message is clear. A child was born. The government rests on his shoulders. He is the Prince of Shalom. He will rule with justice. Scholars agree, one of the central themes of Mary’s Magnificat is that Kingdom justice will accompany the fulfillment of God’s promises. I wonder if instead of being sung today, it should be belted through a megaphone.
It is unfortunate how artists have immortalized Mary as a quaint little Precious Moments Christmas figurine. We might call her Lily-Flower Mary: the soft and saccharine-blessed mother, tender and thin, standing on a bed of roses, glowing in soft-white light, crowned with stars. But this is not the faithful and revolutionary activist immortalized in this new covenant psalm. I would even contend that our honeyed depiction of one of the Bible’s great heroines actually serves to oppress women by ordaining passivity as a godly female trait rather than courage, justice, and holy surrender!
For those of you who don’t see it, could you imagine Mary, all of 14 years old with a baby bump, gathering the powers that be of her time—the corrupt religious establishment, Herod the Great (the infant murderer), and Caesar Augustus (the self-proclaimed son of God)—and singing this to them? . . .
Caesar! God will bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the lowly.
Herod! The hungry will be filled with good things, but the rich will be sent away empty.
Religious elite! God has looked at me with favor. The lowly servant girl will be blessed for generations.
All of you! His mercy is only for those who fear him. The Lord will scatter those with proud hearts.
You can’t say such things to tyrants. Cries for justice are treason! Yet, Mary did not care. There was a King and a Kingdom in her belly. They were greater than the Kingdom of Rome and the Kingdom of Corrupt Religion.
That is why I would remind you this Christmas, “’Tis the season for justice . . . Kingdom justice!”
SPIRITUAL JUSTICE + SOCIAL JUSTICE = KINGDOM JUSTICE
Kingdom justice has two aspects to it—spiritual justice and social justice. Spiritual justice is giving sinners what they don’t deserve: grace and forgiveness. Social justice is giving those born in the image of God what they do deserve: love and dignity. Christmas is a celebration of both.
I’ve never understood the evangelical resistance toward the social dimension of Kingdom justice. It is an undeniable part of the story of God’s people throughout the canon. It is also incredible common ground upon which to build our public witness in the public square today.
Social justice is all the rage. Everyone has their cause. Christians should seize this moment. In Jesus, we have the best spiritual resources and power to do justice! Social justice isn’t something we should leave for politicians, legislators, or activists to duke out. This is our work!
FOUR KINDS OF PEOPLE
When it comes to doing justice, I’ve noticed there are basically four kinds of people.
First, there are people who don’t care about justice. They live for themselves. They are generous to the extent it builds their social status and makes them feel good.
Second, there are people who pretend to care about justice. These people often are loud on social media . . . but that’s it. They give about 2 percent of their income to causes, which is the national average. They rarely volunteer, but on the rare occasions they do, you’d better believe it’s going up on Instagram! Their passion for justice does not actually lead to any real self-denial or self-sacrifice. It is just to signal their virtue.
Third, some people really do care about justice, but since they do it without Jesus, it steals their joy and sets their emotional health on fire. I have observed that, over time, doing justice without Jesus either makes a person cynical or harsh. They can become cynical when they begin to realize that no matter how hard they fight, the fires of injustice keep blazing. The powerful keep exploiting. It’s difficult for a person with no theology of human fallenness or final justice to maintain joy in their work. Others become harsh over time because they cannot understand why not everyone shares the same passion for their cause. They cannot understand those who actively resist their cause. In this situation, a person can come to hate those who aren’t joiners . . . and hate is the opposite of compassion.
Lastly, there are Christians. We go a fourth way. We can’t not care about justice. Jesus teaches that what we do unto the least we do unto him. We don’t settle for thin justice. Jesus’ brother warned that faith without good works is dead (James 2:26). We won’t let justice make us harsh. We see God dying for our sin, and this humbles us. We see our leader forgiving enemies as he is executed, and this composes us. We won’t let justice make us cynical. The empty tomb fills us with a living hope that one day all wrongs will be made right. We hear all this first from a zealous teenage girl, and we see all this first in a royal baby laid in a feeding trough.
So, this Christmas let us sing along with Mary, and like her, let us bring the King and his justice into our world again and again.
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 (Luke 1:50-53)