Year C, Advent 4
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, 23 December 2018
Trinity Church on the Green
T’is the season for Christmas music playing everywhere. Our song for today is Mary’s song: the Magnificat. Alas, we will likely will only hear it at church today, we will not hear it on the radio, sandwiched between “The Little Drummer Boy,” and “Baby it’s Cold Outside.”
In fact, if one were to hear a song concerning Mary on the radio at Christmas time, it would likely be that song “Mary Did you Know?” It is a sweet little song, one that has been recorded by many country and pop artists, and the acapella arrangement by Pentatonix is especially popular right now. The third verse goes like this:
“Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.”
(say it with me!) Aww. It is such a lovely song.
And – I must admit: I took great delight when I discovered that someone had come up with alternate lyrics, and shared them on the internet. It goes like this:
“Yes, Mary knew, that her baby boy would one day rule the nations.
Yes, Mary knew, that her baby boy was Lord of all creation.
Yes, she knew! Read Luke 1, you fool, she sang about it then.
It helps, if when you’re reading, you listen to the WOMEN!” (1)
Point taken: we are to listen to this woman, Mary. We are to listen to her and consider the Magnificat, Mary’s Song of Praise. Mary’s song of Joy. Mary’s song of complicated feelings. Mary’s song that showed she was a willing participant in God’s plan to redeem the world.
I will admit that I have had a complicated, life-long relationship with Mary. As a young Catholic girl, I wore a Miraculous Medal, I prayed the Rosary, and I attended Our Lady of Victory Church. And yet, the only Mary I seemed to know was the one created by men in power to keep us women in check: Mary, the ultimate goody two-shoes, the too good to be true selfless mother. Mary, who is miraculously conceived by her parents Anne and Joachim, and born without Original Sin; Mary, whose chastity and perpetual virginity was overly emphasized to us as young girls as a model for living lives of sexual abstinence and self denial. Mary, the Mother of God – the Theotokos, or God-bearer. Mary, the Mater Dolorosa, or Mother of Sorrows. Mary, the great intercessor between us and Jesus. What great responsibility she has! And what GREAT burden.
It wasn’t until I was already an adult that I could begin to see a different picture of Mary. I had grown cynical of the Mary who had been used by male leaders in the Church as a way to oppress women – preaching that women should model themselves after Mary, especially her humility, obedience, and subservience. Instead, I began to see Mary as one who sided with oppressed peoples, as she identifies herself as “lowly” in the Magnificat. (2) Mary, the unwed mother, who Joseph would have abandoned had an angel not intervened. Mary, who despite all the unknowns, said to the Angel Gabriel, ‘Here am I…let it be with me according to your word.’ Mary, who had to give birth to Jesus in an unknown place, without her own mother or kinswomen there to help. Mary, who became a refugee, to protect her son. Mary, who had to look after a sometimes smug, young Jesus. Mary, who was likely widowed, and who then had to see her son suffer and die. Suddenly, I no longer saw Mary as a perfect, beautiful image – crowned in robes of blue and white. No, suddenly I began to see Mary as a marginalized woman who had to endure a really tough life and vocation with grit, dedication, and extreme faith. That was the Mary I could get behind. That was the Mary I could befriend.
Mary’s song, Mary’s sermon, is one of liberation: personal and social, moral and economic. It is a manifesto, a revolutionary proclamation of conflict and victory. It praises God’s liberating actions: in the transformed social order, all is reversed. For Mary, it is also personal: God has taken direct interest in her. God has called her.
This scene comes just after Mary has consented to the Angel Gabriel. Mary runs off to her relative, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, too, is pregnant by a miracle, so surely she will understand how crazy this all is! Mary went with haste, to fall into the arms of a friend and confidante. And Elizabeth’s baby leaps in her womb, and Elizabeth knows – she identifies Mary as the “mother of my Lord.” Elizabeth is a prophet in this sense: she knows Mary is bearing Jesus. (Isn’t it great to have those types of friends? You don’t even have to tell them – they just somehow know?! Everyone should have a friend like that!)
Elizabeth’s prophecy and blessing is Mary’s cue to sing bravely and boldly. Mary sings of the world being turned upside down: of hierarchies subverted, the mighty brought down. Two marginalized, pregnant women together proclaim the future, and the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. It is kind of odd that Mary sings, no? It is subversive: Mary, who seems amazed at what has happened, sings of God as savior. Mary reminds us, in our Advent waiting, that we cannot look to any other power for salvation from the chaos we are in. Neither technology, education, social progress, or legislation will deliver us. Only God can save us.
Today, Mary sings of hope, and she invites us to sing with her. She invites us to hope with her. Mary’s words of praise speak of God’s redeeming work not as future but as already having been fulfilled. Such is the confidence of faith. And on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we wait in expectation of what is to come. We wait in faith, knowing that God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine. We wait for the coming of Christmas, and we wait for the promise that God will somehow, someday make all things right.
May our souls magnify the Lord! May our spirits rejoice in God our Savior!
1 Credit to Megan Westra @mwestramke; slightly paraphrased to remove the potentially offensive word “freaking.”
2 Wilson, Brittany E. “Mary and Her Interpreters,” in Women’s Bible Commentary, pages 512-516.