Candle of Joy: Mary's Song

Read Luke 1:39-56

Mary sings the first Christmas carol.  She borrows lines from songs she would have known well—lines from the Psalms, from the prophets, from Hannah’s Song—to sing her joy to God. 

Advent Reflections

In other places, in other moments in history, reading Mary’s Song has been illegal, or at least strongly cautioned against.

E. Stanley Jones called the Magnificat“the most revolutionary document in the world.”  

Mary is the first to proclaim the gospel.   And the gospel is dangerous.

She sings of a great reversal.  That those in power, that those who oppress others, will be brought down. The lowly will be lifted up, the hungry will be filled with good things.  In her song, good news and hope are proclaimed for the poor, the marginalized, the stranger.  For anyone who has ever been on the outside.  For anyone who knows that they are broken and in need of a savior.  

You can imagine, can’t you, why people in powerful places, rulers who know that there are poor people who are oppressed because of them, might find these words unsettling, even threatening.  This is no innocent lullaby.

Mary paints a picture of God’s kingdom.  Thirty years later, her son will announce in his first sermon, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near.”  He will welcome the outcast, the sinner, the broken, the hungry.  He will embody his mother’s song.  

Mary doesn’t know how things will turn out when she sings her song.  She doesn’t know if changes will come immediately or if they will take time.  And yet she still sings.

Whether we move towards Christmas with hearts that are full of excitement and joy or whether we move towards Christmas with hearts that are empty and grieving, we do so as people who live in two realities.  

We live in the reality that people suffer, that things aren’t fair, that oppression is still very real, that loneliness and loss threaten to overcome us. 

But we also live in the reality that Mary proclaimed.  That the birth of Jesus changes everything, even if we can’t see it or understand it right now.  That God’s mercy extends to those who fear him, that he has done and will do great things for us, that he has filled and will fill the hungry with good things.  And maybe this sounds trite, and maybe it leaves a whole lot of questions, but clinging to the good news that Mary proclaimed, clinging to the hope that Jesus’ conception and birth changed everything, is the only way I know to keep singing when the world doesn’t make sense.

Anytime that we embody Mary’s song, anytime that we recognize what God has done and rejoice in it, anytime that we extend God’s mercy to others, anytime that we say to God, “let it be to me according to your word,” anytime we welcome the stranger, we become signs of God’s kingdom here and now.  

And in living that way, we become dangerous.  We become a threat to those who seek to live as if all that matters is personal gain at expense of others.  We become a threat to those who want to enjoy a lifestyle that is built on the backs of the poor.  When we embody Mary’s song, we make people uncomfortable. 

But if we are honest, maybe the song makes us uncomfortable, too.  Because maybe we can find ourselves not only in the words about the lowly, but also in the words about the proud.  Maybe we understand all too well that we are not that different from the rulers.  Maybe we can relate to the rich, even if we would never claim to be rich.  How will we respond to this song when we recognize our own reflection in the words about those whom God will scatter?  

As we move towards Christmas, maybe it’s okay to feel uncomfortable with the way things are.  Maybe it’s okay to wonder if we have positioned ourselves on the wrong side of Mary’s song.  Because the more question the way things are, the more we recognize the way things are supposed to be.  And the more we recognize the way things are supposed to be, the more we long for God’s kingdom.  The more we pray: come, thou long expected Jesus.

Prayer:  God who keeps promises, disturb those places in our lives that need disturbing this Advent. Help us to have the audacity to keep singing, to keep practicing joy, even as we wait and we long for something different. 

In the Name of Father, Son, and Spirit,