Another thing I learn from Mary about Advent is that it is about listening. Mary listens to the angel Gabriel when he tells her that she is to be with child. She hears the difficult message and accepts courageously.
Advent is about the Pagan Stargazers
- the Wise Men - listening to the natural world and the messages God was sending through the cosmos. In the advent story, the Shepherds listen, while those in power not only refuse to hear, but actually seek to extinguish the “still, small voice,” emerging from Bethlehem. Advent centers the outsider, the marginalized, and the unheard as those who are first to listen and response.
But there is another thing: Advent is about a God who listens.
In the Magnificat Mary announces that:
he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant….
he Mighty One has done great things for me,…
he Mighty One has done great things for me, He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
God has listened to the cries, the prayers, and the anguish of the powerless. God responds and response to the poor and those crushed by empire, all the while sending the rich and powerful away empty handed.
If this isn’t good news to the poor, I do not know what is. If this isn’t confounding news to the rich and powerful, then they are not listening and do not understand their history or their future prospects.
But there is one more piece about listening; and this is where I am worried I might lose you.
Advent is about listening to and believing Mary.
I understand that believing in the virgin birth seems so passé at this point and a little too impossible: I must be honest and say that I find myself dancing between these options regularly.
However, this year, with the work and learning I’ve been doing around the Poor People’s Campaign
and liberation theology, I’m realizing more and more the importance of believing the poor and marginalized when they tell you something.
What made me think about Mary in this context is something that my good friend and Quaker minister Peggy Senger Morrison once wrote about Jesus’ resurrection and the women who were the first to tell the story:
I do believe that He was resurrected. Bodily, on the third day. I will always believe this. For many reasons-but foundationally, fundamentally, deal-breakingly, because I will not betray the women…
I will not discredit the voice of Magdalene, nor her spiritual mothers and sisters. I will not stand with the unbelieving brothers, the skeptics. I will not turn them into metaphor, or allegory, or hagiography. I will not let my modernist sensibilities blackball their words in shadow –less than other words, even the words of the Master. I won’t make them smaller. Their part has been shrunk enough already. I won’t discount them; they are already a bargain.
So while I understand how the virgin birth grates against our modern sensibilities, I am challenged to listen to those who the religion of Empire says should remain silent, whose voices and lives don’t matter. Whose stories should be dismissed as silly and unbelievable, or worse, as a nuisance that should be eliminated.
Today, during this Advent, in light of all that we have lost, in light of the 140 million poor in this country, in light of those for whom justice has not yet come, for all those whose backs against the wall, I choose to believe Mary.
We have the virgin birth because that is what she told us happened to her. And I believe what she said. I believe that God came to her and gave us Jesus through her and that even though it is a mystery to me, it is important for me to practice believing what women, and people of color, and the poor to me.
This Advent remember that it matters who you listen to.
It matters who you choose to believe.
“It is always shocking to the system [and those in power] when they learn that God is working outside the structure that human hands had established.” -Link
If we want a new story to arise, then we need to believe different people. We need to believe different stories. We need to prioritize the stories and experiences of the poor and the marginalized over the stories of the rich and powerful.
A movement for true liberation begins with believing the stories we’re told are unbelievable. Stories that are not credible or too inconvenient to the powers that be.
The poor are experts of their own stories and experts when it comes to knowing what they need to survive.
Advent is about who we listen to. It is about believing Mary, because in doing so we internalize and ritualize the practice of listening to the powerless and poor. We recognize that it matters who we believe and in doing so we sacralize the practice of listening to those outside the center of power. We listen just like the poor fishermen, shepherds, stargazers, and God listened to a poor Palestinian, brown-skinned Jewish woman named Mary.