A Message from Bishop Karen Oliveto

December 12, 2022
I am praying for the laity and clergy of the Mountain Sky Conference as we prepare ourselves for worship.

Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent! We are halfway to Christmas!

On this day, we read Luke 1: 46-55. Commonly known as the Maginficat, it is a song that bursts forth from Mary as she and her cousin greet each other.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowly state 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; indeed, 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 imagination 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 come to the aid of his child Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

We often pause to consider what it would have been like to be an unwed teenager in an occupied land whose baby’s conception was, well, unusual to say the least. What would your feelings be if you were Mary?
I love the Magnificat because it shows a fierce Mary who was keenly aware that she had, growing within her, the Hope of the World. This baby she was carrying was Emmanuel—God-with-us—who would offer humanity a new way to live in relationship with God and one another that would be so threatening to those in power that he would be put to death. And yet, God refused to break solidarity with humanity even in death, and so broke the chains of death forever through Christ’s resurrection.
Mary makes clear God’s purpose for humanity: to challenge and cast down the powerful, the haughty, the rich, and raise up the powerless, the oppressed, the poor. This is a revolutionary song Mary sings! In fact, it is so powerful in its call for the radical restructuring of society that oppressed people have found courage from it and those who oppress have feared it, so much so that some governments banned it!
The Magnificat was banned in India when it was under British Rule. When the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina--whose children had disappeared during the Dirty Way (1976-1983)--displayed posters with the words of the Magnificat around the capital plaza, the military junta outlawed any public display that carried the words of Mary. It was also banned in Guatemala.

Dietrich Bonheoffer, before he was executed by the Nazis, recognized the power of Mary’s words and said of them in his Advent sermon of 1933:

“The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”
The Advent/Christmas season is one of great sentimentalism—at least I know it is for me! As a result, it becomes all too easy—with all the festivities and tinsel and light—to forget that Jesus’ birth was the start of a revolution. God’s revolution. One that, as Christians, we are called to join so that, as the Christmas hymn reminds us, “In his name all oppression shall cease.”

Take a few moments each day this week to reread Luke 1:46-55. Mary’s song is one we all should be singing.

With love,
Bishop Karen