Advent Reflection: God’s Goodness

Theme: In all things, God… (Romans 8:28)

Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-55)

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
            my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
            who has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
            the Almighty has done great things for me
            and holy is his name.
God has mercy on those who fear him,
            from generation to generation.
The Lord has shown strength with his arm
            and scattered the proud in their conceit,
            casting down the mighty from their thrones
            and lifting up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things
            and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
            to remember the promise of mercy,
            the promise made to our forebearers,
            to Abraham and his children for ever.

“God has filled the hungry with good things.” This statement from Mary’s prayer can come as a surprise, especially with the state of things in the world this year. With an ongoing pandemic, the recent flooding and many other challenges we face in our personal lives, it can be hard to see what is good. We may turn to God and ask, why is the world the way it is? 

You can see the roots of this question all the way back in Genesis 3, with Adam and Eve’s decision to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. While ostensibly they wanted what was “good,” their failure to trust in God’s goodness and instead decide for themselves what is right and wrong resulted in devastating consequences for themselves and all creation.

And yet, even in that rejection of God and the consequences that followed, God’s mercy was extended. Immediate mercy for Adam and Eve in the form of clothing. But also the mercy spoken of by Mary, extending from generation to generation even until today. At the end of Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve have realized the true outcome of their decision, we find the Protoevangelium – the first gospel. Speaking of the serpent, God says,

            I will put enmity between you and the woman
                        and between your offspring and hers;
            he will crush your head,
                        and you will strike his heel.

We understand the offspring of Eve in this passage to be a reference to Jesus, and his victory over Sin, Death and Satan through his death and resurrection. This is the mercy Mary proclaims as extending to all generations. It is God coming to our aid, saving us from the consequences of our fallenness, in fulfilment of the promise made to Adam and Eve; the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the promises made to Moses, David and the prophets.

The challenge for us is that this mercy and deliverance may not be exactly as we expect either. And that’s okay. Why should we expect to fully comprehend the plan and work of God? We see this theme consistently played out in scripture – the people of God are constantly surprised by God’s activity. It rarely turns out as expected.

We will look at the unexpectedness of God’s mercy in more detail next week. In the meantime, I might suggest we think about the description of God’s mercy made active as written by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

As you reflect on and celebrate God’s mercy this Christmas, be open to the possibility that God has something greater in mind for you than you thought or imagined – not necessarily easier, but greater. And trust that God’s goodness is more certain than our own knowledge of what is good and what is evil.

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