“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with
good thingsand sent the rich away empty.”
When asked how he wanted to be buried, ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes replied: “face down”. When asked why, Diogenes explained that the powers of the day had turned the world upside down, and he wished to be buried the right way up. Who could not sympathize with Diogenes as we read today’s news! The world does seem helter-skelter, upside-down, topsy-turvy; our hearts scream for justice!
Today’s news reads much like it read in Isaiah’s day as rulers “call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). The leaders of the people are “wise in their own eyes…heroes in drinking wine…who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of their rights” (Isaiah 5:21-23). The whole world is upside down.
But in today’s words from Mary’s Song she sings in the “prophetic perfect” about Messiah setting things right. She speaks of future justice as an already accomplished fact: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly”.
Unlike gods of the ancient world the God of the Bible does not favor the powerful or ruling class, but demonstrates a particular love for the lowly. Few themes in Scripture are emphasized as much as God’s zeal for bringing justice to the oppressed, and for turning the world right side up.
As a descendant of King David, Mary had probably memorized and meditated on God’s promise of a “Child” from the house of David who will bring “endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
The Hebrew word translated “justice” is mishpat, which means, “to establish things on earth according to the heavenly pattern”. Messiah will come and set things right and “bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1). God’s Kingdom will come, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven when Messiah sets up His reign over all.
Martin Luther King Jr. affirmed that, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. All history bends towards that day when Messiah will bring down the thrones of the powerful, and lift up the lowly and broken.
One of the highlights of the Advent Season for many people is listening to Handel’s Messiah. Whether listening at home to a CD, or in a concert hall or church, we thrill to the magnificent “Hallelujah Chorus”. Our hearts are brave again as we hear its promise: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
Mary is a “lowly” peasant girl living under the jackboot oppression of the Romans and their puppet King Herod the Great. They strut across the scene of world history, but Mary knows that Messiah will bring them down. She sings joyfully of Messiah’s Day when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. The Child growing within Mary will bring justice to an upside down world.
As our world bends towards the Day of Messiah, God summons us to serve the lowly and oppressed. He is a God who favors humble peasants and women unable to bear. Pray that on the great Day we might be counted among the “righteous” who will hear Messiah say:
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of those who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).
- Why do you think God wanted shepherds to be the first to hear the news of the Savior’s birth?
- What are the practical implications of God being born in a humble dwelling rather than a palace or Roman villa?
- In Matthew 25 Jesus speaks of serving those who are the “least” of His family. Who are some of the “least” that you see in the world today?