As we enter the Christmas season I find myself “coincidentally” reading the beginning of the book of Luke and was surprised to discover how much of the Christmas story is about mercy. Luke is unique in his description of Mary and her new pregnancy. When Mary meets her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with John, Luke records what some theologians call The Magnificat. It’s also called The Song Of Mary and many churches sing it regularly as part of their worship service.
It’s a supernatural moment when this humble, pregnant Jewish teenage girl bursts out in prophetic utterance in which she praises God for not only showing favor to her by choosing her to bear the savior, but for His mercy “to all generations.” I call it “The Mercyficat”.
What stood out to me was a line I never noticed before. In verse 53 Mary says, “He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed.”
She could have said a lot of things about Jesus, but chose to say that God was sending his son to flip the script, turn the tables and get things back to where He wanted them. In verse 52, she talks about how God is bringing down rulers from their thrones and exalting those who were humble.
Does God despise the rich? No, God is replacing the old system of “might is right” with a new kingdom system where the last are first and the first are last. He measures the condition of people’s hearts. As The Message puts it, “The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold.” It wasn’t the rich’s wealth Mary was talking about, but the self-absorption and lack of concern (or mercy) for others that can come with it.
Acts 10 talks of a man who was wealthy and powerful named Cornelius. As a Roman centurion, Cornelius commanded respect. Rather than Lord his authority over others and exploit them, Cornelius was a devout man who consistently helped the poor. Peter was told in a dream to go bring the gospel to this man. God was moved by the man’s lifestyle of mercy. It got His attention.
Peter had to break all the cultural and religious rules to go and enter this man’s house. It ushered in a new wave of revival as non-Jews were now welcomed into God’s plan of salvation. Ironically, it all started with a gentile who was a representative of the polytheistic, morally bankrupt, ruling power known as Rome. He was in the world, but somehow he was not “of the world.”
We too live in a corrupt system and society that holds very different values than the kingdom of God. We are called to be salt and light, transformers of this dark and deteriorating culture that we live in. One of the most effective ways to be agents of transformation is through mercy.
Sometimes around this season people get riled up about whether Christmas is being promoted adequately. I myself am a big “Merry Christmas” fan, however, rather than engage in the “culture wars” and try to get people to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”, I am more inclined to pursue, “Mercy Christmas” through my actions. The best way I can think of to celebrate God’s gift of mercy to us is for us to give that same gift away to others. Rather than try to take the culture by force, I suggest we “subversively” spread the true meaning of Christmas through grassroots actions.
I am the Executive Director of New York City Relief, which utilizes The Relief Bus outreach as literal vehicles of mercy to people on the streets. We not only give away needed clothing, food and resources, we endeavor to give away our friendship to people.
Although it’s obvious that the homeless and addicted in the inner city are in need of mercy, we don’t have to travel far from home to find people in our local communities who need mercy as well. For several years my family has welcomed in an elderly couple that live next door, to enjoy breakfast together with us on Christmas morning and watch my kids open their presents. This brother and sister have no other family to spend the holidays with. It enriches all of our lives to share Christmas together.
When we celebrate Christmas, what we are really celebrating is His mercy. Maybe like Cornelius, God will call us to show His mercy to people outside of our social and economic classes. Maybe like Peter, our mercy mission will cause us to break some of our own cultural or religious traditions in order to deliver the love of Jesus. So many times, God uses the gift of mercy to break down our own hidden prejudices and stereotypes that we weren’t even aware of. James 2:13 says it well, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
How is God calling us to show His mercy this season? Who can we choose to bless extravagantly? Let’s be a part of fulfilling Mary’s prophecy to deliver the mercy she spoke of “to all generations”.
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