December 23, 2012 | Graham

To each their own annunciation

Today is the fourth Sunday in advent, the Sunday of Love. Which is appropriate because I’m going to dedicate this post to Love, Sophie Love that is, who gave me an epiphany of sorts about the Annunciation, which is doubly appropriate because today is the day that the lectionary mandates a reading of the Magnificat, or Song of Mary, not once, but twice.

Unchurched, or very lapsed Christian, readers may not be familiar with the Magnificat. Protestants, like myself, may also be a little uneasy with it because of what we see as the cult of Mary in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, but if we are, it is something we need to get over, because it is one of the most profound passages in scripture.

It is that song of praise that Mary speaks after being told by the angel that she is pregnant. In the King James version it starts off: “And Mary said My soul doth magnify the lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”

I think it lacks a bit of context in the original, and I prefer to roughly precis it along these lines:

“Isn’t God great? I’m going to be a single mother in a culture where you can be stoned to death for that, but you know what, this child has the power to do anything, even overturn our social order so that the poor and rich will swap places and what people think is dumb (like this) will turn out to be wise. This is history and destiny and I’m part of it.”

It’s actually one of my most favourite pieces of scripture because not only does it sum up the Christian proposition so well, it is a proposition that most non-Christians and many Christians fail to grasp – that Christianity isn’t about maintaining society; it is about turning it upside down.

A conversation with Sophie last Sunday, when I visited her and her family on the NSW mid-north coast, showed me another dimension to the Annunciation.

Sophie said that every mother has her own Annunciation. That at the moment you find you’re pregnant you have a moment when everything is possible, and that possibility empowers the baby in your womb, and stems from it. That there is a moment, before history and the future close in, when your baby could be and could do, anything.

I’m not sure if every mother does have that Annunciation, just as I’m not sure that every father may have been as oblivious to it as I have, but it’s something that I will be thinking about during the services this Christmas.

In a way Christmas Day is a repeat of the Annunciation. Mary sensed the potential of Jesus to change the world absolutely, and nine months later he comes into the world and we all repeat that claim, even though he is a child, born in very unpromising circumstances.

And who, at the time when they were writing these accounts about Jesus, could have believed that these claims would be so spectacularly vindicated. That the baby would change the world radically, and it would be turned upside down.

We may not live in a perfect world, but compared to the world in which Jesus lived, it is Paradise. How much more paradisical it can become, who knows, but our world is the best gift that Christmas brings every year.

And according to the gospel of Sophie, that gift of radical transformation is a gift that every mother potentially gives to the world with each of her children. Making it a gift not just of Christmas, but literally a gift of every day, and maybe every minute.

Posted by Graham at 12:27 pm | Comments (8) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Nice one, Graham.

    Being a mum, I think you’ve highlighted a common truth there.

    Christmas wishes to you and yours.

    Comment by Poirot — December 24, 2012 @ 9:07 am

  2. Wonderfully put Graham!

    Have a truly joyous & blessed Christmas

    Comment by Gabriel Malocca — December 24, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

  3. Jesus’s claim was that he would bring about radical change in the lifetime of the people who were around him. That certainly didn’t happen. The fact that things DID change over the subsequent 2000 years is hardly attributable to Jesus, since that’s exactly what we would expect to happen over that length of time.

    Comment by Jon Jermey — December 26, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

  4. Jon Jerney is correct. Constant change is an immutable characteristic of the world. Especially in the decades since World War II, and even more so via the various micro-electronic technological revolutions of the past 25 years.
    Did Jesus cause any of that? And why does everything have to be about or caused by Jesus.
    Prior to the age of European exploration and the subsequent colonial/imperialist expansion, Jesus and/or Christianity had nothing whatsoever do do with the most of humankind. That is those living in the various civilizations of Asia, Africa and the Americas.

    Meanwhile there are now more Christians in the world than ever before, both in total numbers and as a percentage of the human population. And yet the world is becoming more and more insane every day, with many right-wing Christians being the leading vectors/causes of the now global insanity.

    Comment by Fred — December 28, 2012 @ 8:12 am

  5. If Jesus did, and still is, changing the world then did he change everything without exception, or only the good bits?
    How do you account for all of the horrors perpetrated by Christian true believers against other Christian true believers during the post-Reformation Catholic vs Protestant religious wars that raged across Europe for decade after decade. And the systematic violence against non Christians too.

    How do you account for the fact that the various Christian nations have always been armed to the teeth, and still are.

    Comment by Fred — December 28, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

  6. Profound indeed. And a profound reason why Catholics are anti-abortion. Happy New Year, Graham.

    Shame Fred and Jon had to spoil it.

    Comment by Constance — January 1, 2013 @ 8:50 pm

  7. Agreed in some respects Constance, but I’m glad I got some disagreement. It is really immaterial whether Jesus thought he was going to change things within the lifetime of those who followed him or not. What is material is that the value system that he espoused took over Europe and profoundly shapes the ethics of the present world.

    Without Christianity the Declaration of Human Rights would be unimaginable. While some civilisations have granted their own citizens those rights, I can’t think of any who have believed that all humans share in the same rights outside of the 20th Century and Europe.

    Jon takes the cheap debating shot that as Christian nations go to war there must be something wrong with Christianity. The same shot, if it is accurate, means that when atheistic, Muslim, or Hindu nations go to war then it must be because they are of that religion too. In which case it is not the fact that nations have a religion, or don’t, that distinguishes them, so the shot falls short.

    Fred lives in a parallel universe where things are getting “insane” and apparently this is all the fault of “right-wing Christians”. Presumably these are people like Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George Bush (guess he qualifies), Vladimir Putin, Osama bin Laden…need I go on? And by what measure is the world “insane”? We live in the least violent time in history.

    Comment by Graham — January 2, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

  8. Just saw that, a bit late. Very nicely expressed.

    One could see Christ as the first Communist, I think the liberation theologists have seen it that way.

    Perhaps he epitimizes the endless possibilities for redemption, renewal, forgiveness, and the blessings of rebirth.

    Comment by Ronda Jambe — February 5, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

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