A general election in Advent is unusual. There has not been one since 1923. On the surface of it, that is a minor detail. But actually, despite the alleged inconvenience of a campaign in the run-up to Christmas, to allow some of the Advent themes to shape our pre-election thinking might be helpful.
All my life I have been singing Mary’s song, Magnificat, according to its first word in Latin. In a process of spiritual osmosis, it has permeated my thinking. Every time I visit our local cathedral in Ely, I am struck by the statue of Mary – I see a woman at once exultant and yet so very thoughtful. And such are the words St Luke records as Mary’s response to the news that she is to be the mother of Jesus. It occurs to me that, although Magnificat is part of Anglican Evening Prayer every day of the year, it adds a particular value in our Advent worship. The version that got into Rejoice and Sing is Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith’s Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord. It’s number 740 and I imagine it will have an airing in many of our congregations’ December services.
The evangelist’s record suggests that Mary is especially alert to some of the elements of God’s reign that Jesus will inaugurate. Like the prophets before her, these themes offer a critique of the way society was ordered in her day. We, too, might find in them pointing to necessary hallmarks for the ordering of our own nations today. Five points leapt out at me as I pondered it.
First, there is the immense significance of the place that is given to a woman in God’s scheme for making all things whole. Mary is pivotal. How have we allowed society to evolve so that women still do not receive pay equal to men’s, often for doing the same work?
Secondly, Magnificat speaks of how proud people are ‘scattered’; ‘proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight’ is Dudley-Smith’s paraphrase. Does Mary challenge the way we had allowed our political discourse to develop in those months before the end of the last parliament?
Thirdly, we hear of the lowly being exalted – might this urge us to ensure the renewal of dignity for people so easily marginalised because of the their identity and situation: their abilities, their body, their poverty, their race, their sexuality?
Fourthly, Mary dreams of the hungry being filled. In the age of foodbanks here is an Advent vision of their redundancy.
And lastly, Magnificat emphasises how the God who reigns does so in mercy – mercy which responds to need and flaw and error with an unexpected, unmerited, unconditional love, and bids us do likewise. Is it not this mercy that sustains us as people of hope? As Bishop Timothy helps us sing ‘firm is his promise, and his mercy sure.’
I find these to be eloquent guides as I explore the manifestos and key ideas with which we are faced. Determined to exercise my franchise, but somewhat confused by some of the political ideas before me, I am in fact grateful that this election can be infused with Mary’s themes for Advent.