Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
According to “The Atlantic,” there was a Gallup poll in March 2011 issued to a random sample group of 1,000 Americans asking the question, “Who has too much power in America?” The results that came back showed that the majority of the Americans surveyed thought everyone had too much power. But if we breakdown the results we can see where the percentages lie in seeing who this group things has the most power. Gallup reports on their website, “Lobbyists, major corporations, banks, and the federal government all have too much power, according to Americans.” There was one question to this survey. When a group of people was read off, the person being surveyed said whether they had too much power, not enough power, or the right amount.
I find a few things interesting about this survey. First of all, there is an assumption that people know what power is in this day and age and secondly, there is an assumption about who assigns power. We aren’t exactly who assigns power but we know when people have too much of it. According to Merriam Webster power is defined as, “an ability to act or produce an effect.” The second entry listed was, “possession of control, authority or influence over others.” Do we get to assign who has that kind of power and does anyone get to have it?
As we approach the fourth Sunday of Advent with Christmas Eve just a day away from that point, the question of power comes up again through the eyes of an unwed, pregnant teenager, who has the confidence that God has and will do tremendous things to lift up those without perceived power to create change in the world. In other words, God will change the way we see power. Mary is so sure of it she sings out her own experience. Time to rethink our ideas of power.
Today we get to dwell with Mary as she appears at Elizabeth’s doorstep. She has been travelling for close to 100 miles and has spent time with the idea that she is pregnant with the son of God. This would not have made sense to her since she comes from a dirt poor background with no societal power as we know it. She has no money, no authority, no status and no way of changing that perception on her own. She appears at her cousin’s house, a wife of a priest and an older woman with more status and prestige. She is met by Elizabeth who proclaims God’s blessings and is the first to rethink power in this moment. Elizabeth gives the stage to Mary which is the beginning of a transformation.
Then Mary sings out. We call this “the Magnificat.” Notice which tense she sings out in. She sings out things God has already done, knowing that God will continue to lift up the lowly, feed the hungry, and continue to amaze us with the unknown. God has the power in this scenario, not us. God has the ability to make things new and turn the world upside down without money and authority. God has always sided with the downtrodden and oppressed since even before getting God’s people out of Egypt. Advent makes us question what power is and who has it. It may not be who we think it could or should be. The world is born anew.
Quotes for the Week
“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” ― Margaret Thatcher
“Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.”― John Steinbeck
“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
“Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides.” ― Rita Mae Brown
“Lesson learned? When people say, “You really, really must” do something, it means you don’t really have to. No one ever says, “You really, really must deliver the baby during labor.” When it’s true, it doesn’t need to be said.” ― Tina Fey, Bossypants
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix
Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 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. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
Luke 1: 39-45 (NRSV)
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Questions for the Week
What does the word power conjure up in your mind?
Who gets to have power?
What changes the power dynamic?