The radicalization of Mary

December 22nd, 2015

In the wake of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, “radicalization” became the latest media buzzword. The talking heads on cable news speculated about when and how the shooters were radicalized and how or if the government could thwart these radicalizing forces. On the other hand, some American politicians proposed barring all members of a particular religion from entering the country, even refugees, using disturbingly fascist rhetoric — a radical solution to the problem of radicalization. But from a Christian point-of-view, the use of the word “radical” calls to mind Inigo Montoya from the movie "The Princess Bride": “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Image courtesy The Princess Bride via Facebook

MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s blog post “A Curriculum for Radicalization” points out that there is nothing truly radical about either extremists or fundamentalists because they are still playing by the rules of this world. Using the language of war and violence, inciting fear and terror, and pitting groups of people against one another based on differences in color or religious belief is nothing new in human history. Unfortunately, people have been acting like this for a long, long time, even religious people.

What the world needs is people who are truly radicalized, who do not accept the state of the world as it is, and who are willing to risk their comfort and safety to do a new thing. The world needs people who are committed to dismantling the logic of violence through vulnerability and waging peace.

The very word “radical” comes from the Latin radix meaning “root.” Christian radicals are rooted in the story of God’s salvation through Israel and through Christ whereby God reveals the new thing that God is doing in the world. Those of us who follow the Revised Common Lectionary may have heard that in church on Sunday in Mary’s song, the Magnificat (Luke 2:46-55). The new, radical thing that God is doing includes bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty.

Throughout Scripture, we get a taste of what is truly radical. The Word becoming flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is radical. A Messiah born to a Jewish virgin in a crowded, backwater, Roman-occupied town is radical. John the Baptist’s preaching of sharing our coats and food with those who have none is radical. Jesus’ mission and ministry of healing the sick and dining with outcasts and sinners is radical. A Savior submitting to crucifixion and death in order to overcome violence and the grave is radical. The Holy Spirit pouring out on all people and nations is radical.

Grace and forgiveness are radical. Violence is not. Sharing bread and wine at a communion table in spite of our divisions is radical. Welcoming strangers into our midst is radical. The Kingdom of God is radical precisely because it upends and subverts the way we think the world should work, and it is that kingdom that comes into being in the birth of Jesus Christ. May we join with Mary this Christmas and celebrate God’s radical work in the world by committing to being radical Christians.

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