I've always loved the first of May. Maybe it is the Celtic and European blood in me, or the feminine, or the longing for justice and the appreciation of those who forged the struggle, or the family birthdays which fall this month, or simply the rising sap of life and creation itself - all topped off by those champagne breakfasts I enjoyed on this day in Oxford - but I adore it. Of course it 'works' so much better in the northern hemisphere - 'oh to be in Paris now that Spring is here', as the old song has it? (and indeed I've been blessed to be in that beautiful city of liberty in May on a number of occasions). Yet it is such a gorgeous symbolic celebration of veriditas - greening - in so many senses of the word. It rings for me, sings to me, dances in me: with joy, with hope, with transformation...
One of the most misleading sayings in some Christian quarters is that Jesus was born to die. Indeed, so concerned are some to talk about Jesus’ death that they would really like us to put a cross in the nativity scene! Now, of course, the meaning Christians find in the death of Jesus is certainly very important. That is part of why the Easter story is central to Christian Faith. Yet even Good Friday is not ultimately about death. For, as the Bible Society’s lively 2009 campaign expressed it, Jesus. All About Life is the true reality. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel (10.10): ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’. Death is a part of life and life involves a series of little deaths (losses and griefs) as well as physical death. So Jesus showed us how dying well can be done. Yet this was in service of life, which is the real purpose and invitation of God’s creation of us. For God wants us to live! Christmas, the feast of the birth of Jesus, is therefore not merely a beginning and prelude to Easter. It also witnesses powerfully, in its own right, to the heart of the Christian message. In God in Jesus Christ, we find our fullest life, which is eternal love, right here, right now, and for evermore...
The great song of Jesus’ mother in the Bible is often known by its Latin title of Magnificat. This means ‘let magnify’ or ‘let thanks and glory be given’. It is the cry of Mary when she realises that she is pregnant and is full – or will soon be full - of the love of God in human form (that is the boy-child we know as Jesus). With all the joy and excitement and anticipation she feels, Mary is crying out as loud as she can – let thanks and glory be given, let life come to birth. Mary’s whole heart, her whole being, is caught up in thanksgiving and in the process of bringing new life into being. Can we join in with her?
Advent – the immediate weeks before Christmas Day – is a great time for renewing the spirit of thanksgiving and for pondering on what is coming to birth, or might come to birth, in each of us and in our broken world. What gifts do we want to thank God for? What joyful things can we see in our lives and/or in the world around us? What new things is God doing in us that we want to bring into being? For each of us is called to sing, and live, our Magnificat.
Mary's song is just one more reason why we have renewed our Season of Gratefulness initiative for Advent this year. This is not blind to the pain and struggles of our lives and world. Rather this is also about justice, seeking to rejoice, like Mary, in the presence of that Love which has brought light out of darkness in the past, and will again: not least, as we, if we would but know it, can ourselves be pregnant with the Spirit of God.
My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.
He looks on his servant in her lowliness; henceforth all ages will call me blessed.
The Almighty works marvels for me. Holy his name!
His mercy is from age to age, on those who fear him.
He puts forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud-hearted.
He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly.
He fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty.
He protects Israel, his servant, remembering his mercy,
the mercy promised to our forebears, to Abraham and his descendants for ever.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.