Christmas is a season well known for charitable giving. Many charitable organizations receive generous financial donations at Christmas time. Food banks and meal programs are swamped with food and volunteers. Shelters are given heaps of socks and underwear. Toy collections for those made poor exceed expectations. Christmas giving goes well beyond those presents under the tree to sharing gifts with those who are less fortunate. This is a beautiful dimension of the holiday season.
In the Magnificat, the poetry talks about the hungry being filled with good things. That is a beautiful vision. Everyone having food to eat. This is something we would all love to see especially when you think about how much food gets thrown away and how many people experience food insecurity.
But the Magnificat doesn’t just talk about plenty for the poor. The writer extols the God that has selected Mary to be the mother of Jesus:
“You have scattered the proud in their conceit;
you have deposed the mighty from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.” [Luke 51b-53]
This portrayal of God goes well beyond promoting charitable giving much of which comes from those who are wealthy and powerful. So what are we to think of these provocative verses?
I think the writer is not looking for punishment for specific individuals who are rich or in positions of power. I think the poetic imagery in the Magnificat is a way of talking about changing the system, the societal arrangements and the economic structures, that create poverty, that make people poor. The Magnificat is envisioning a new social and economic order that does not take advantage of people or make anyone poor or hungry or “less than.” This new reality can be seen in the selection of Mary, a poor, humble, small town girl, for a big important role in God’s plan for justice. And Mary’s son, Jesus, will devote his ministry to making God’s dream of a human community without poverty or oppression a reality.
The kind of reality portrayed in the Magnificat and in the teachings of Jesus, a reality which does not create victims but promotes mutuality and equality is good for everyone. In that kind of world, no one needs to be afraid. Those who were on the bottom don’t have to worry about being taken advantage of. And those who were toward the top don’t have to be afraid of being robbed or attacked for their wealth. It is a reality without fear, or guilt, or twisted justifications and manipulations. It is a reality based in shared experience and truth.
So, maybe we want to look forward to a Christmas season without charitable giving. Not because people are greedy or hard-hearted, but because there is no longer any need. As Divine Love is born in us, may we commit ourselves to creating social and economic arrangements that eliminate poverty and oppression.
We are grateful for our many blessings and our material resources. We are grateful that we can share with others. May we be generous with our hearts and minds and creativity working to create a world that is free of poverty and need especially for those who are most vulnerable. Amen.