Songs of Christmas: Mary’s Song

 

Luke 1:46-55

Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord!   In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.  Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.  He has shown strength with his arm.  He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.  He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.  He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

It was the first Friday of May when I found out I was pregnant.  The one thing I remember the most is when Corey came home from work that day and knelt down to kiss my stomach.  From that day on, we have been busy preparing for our baby to enter into the world.  That has been an adventure in itself from childbirth classes, assembling nursery furniture, and figuring out what all we need to keep our child safe and healthy.

No matter how we learn that children are coming into our world, whether through a positive pregnancy test, adoption, or a foster care situation, or learning that you will become a grandparent, it is a moment we will never forget.  Some of these moments are full of joy, some with fear, some with anxiety, some with confusion or relief.  Some, like me, had and still have all of these feelings!  For some it’s the end of a long journey to parenthood, for some it’s expected, while for others it’s unexpected.  For all, it’s the beginning of a new life journey filled with the ups and downs that come along with new life coming into the world.

So what must it have been like for young Mary?  At only age 14 or 15, she found herself engaged to be married to a man most likely much older than she was.  While she was not yet living with him, she was already considered to be his wife by all standards except for physical intimacy and co-habitation.  When the angel Gabriel came and announced the news of her conception, Mary’s reaction is rather counter-cultural to what we might expect.  After receiving the angel’s greeting with confusion and hesitation, she chooses words far beyond her years.  Here she is, a young woman, who while engaged, is not yet fully married by standards of the ancient world, who is now pregnant, and who faces the risk of death if found out.  She asks some fair questions such as, “How can this be since I have not yet known a man intimately?” and she wonders what kind of news this really is, yet her only response upon the angel leaving her is, “Let it be with me just as you have said.”

Whenever I read this, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I can’t help but think that if a woman had written Mary’s story, this would have been the moment of panic, tears, running to her best friend, or in today’s world, sending out texts and making frantic phone calls to a doctor, or even a psychiatrist!  But we are not told of any of that.  In Mary’s patient and compassionate way, she accepts this news and keeps it buried in her heart, knowing by faith that this news of a new child will turn the world upside down.

But it is a while before she is really assured of the truth and meaning of her situation.  She goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who the angel told her was 6 months pregnant.  Another bold move for Mary.  She leaves her hometown without her fiancé or her family knowing anything of her situation, and travels perhaps 70, 80, or 100 miles to visit a relative for no other reason than to seek confirmation of her situation and Elizabeth’s.  Perhaps on the journey, Mary considered ways that she might share her mysterious news with her cousin.  “I’m carrying God’s baby” may not go over so well!  But Mary’s worries came to a halt when, upon seeing Elizabeth, her cousin proclaimed the good news given to her by the Holy Spirit as her baby leapt in her womb with these words, “God has blessed you among women, and he has blessed the child you carry.  Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises made to her.”

We are told that Elizabeth proclaimed these words with a loud voice- with confidence, with faith, with gladness.  Imagine- in those days, men were the ones who usually conferred blessings.  Yet here we have a woman proclaiming a blessing upon another woman.  Even from the womb, Jesus was changing the culture and turning the world upside down (Higgs, Women of Christmas, 67).  And there is more to Elizabeth’s words: she is the first to proclaim Jesus as Lord when she asks, “Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  With her words, she makes her confession of faith through the knowledge given to her by the Holy Spirit- and Jesus wasn’t even born yet.  Elizabeth’s words to Mary were a confirmation of God’s promise, and more powerful than any pregnancy test!  Jesus was alive and growing inside of her!  And it was through Elizabeth’s blessing and affirmation that Mary found the confidence to sing her song of joy, known to us today as the Magnificat, or “Mary’s Song.”

So often we tend to forget that Mary needed this affirmation from her cousin before accepting her uncertain and mysterious future.  We know that Gabriel appears with this cryptic news, and then we want to automatically jump to Mary singing her beautiful song.  We forget that it was the holy dialogue between these two women that gave her the voice she needed to sing, preach, and praise the Lord.  I admire Mary.  When I found out I was pregnant, the last thing I honestly wanted to do was sing.  Sure, I felt joy and excitement, but also feelings of anxiety, worry, and a little bit of fear.  A small part of me felt like I was taking the weight of the world on my shoulders…or at least in the knowledge that an entire person’s life was now in my hands.  That did not cause me to want to burst into song.  But there is a reason that God chose Mary to bear this holy, scary, and almost unspeakable task at the risk of exclusion, and even death.  God knew she would say yes.  God knew that she had the faith and the courage to take this on.  Through Mary, I am reminded that God uses each of us, no matter who we are, to achieve God’s purposes in the world.  In the words of Mary’s song, I am reminded that in God, we find strength and courage to sing out loud and strong, despite our hesitations, fears, and anxieties.  We are called to praise God, even in the midst of uncertainty.

The words that Mary chooses tell us a lot about her faith, her hopes, and her dreams for her unborn child.  As my child is quickly trying to make his appearance into the world, I find myself every now and then writing letters to him in my head.  I eventually need to sit down and write them out so that I remember everything that I want to say to him as he enters this world.  Mary’s song is perhaps the first love letter to her son, but attributed to the God who has given her this mysterious gift.

The words she chooses have very obvious similarities to the Song of Hannah back in 1 Samuel when she praises God for the gift of her son after not being able to conceive a child.  But another way to look at Mary’s song is to note that it is a wonderful patchwork of Hebrew textual allusions and images that are found in the Hebrew (or OT) scriptures.  Mary must have recalled the hymns of praise by Moses and Miriam in Exodus, Asaph in Chronicles, Deborah in Judges, and King David in the psalms (Homiletics).  These are stories and songs she would have known by heart, and she chooses to praise God as she recalls those who have gone before her in faith and have overcome the many obstacles set before them to achieve world changing events.  She, too, now falls in line with those who placed their trust in God and have gone on to change the world, despite the fact that God continues to choose the most unexpected people to do so.

As Mary’s response to both Elizabeth’s blessing and the angel Gabriel’s proclamation, Mary’s song offers praise to God for the surprises and God’s providence.  Her words focus on the sociological implications of God’s work in the world, God’s paradoxical preferences to the lowly, the hungry, and the poor.  Her main focus, however, is on praising an active, saving God.  Her song is not yet a call toward a new saving activity, but she surely knew that God would guide her footsteps on this new path she would take to bring a savior into the world.

In today’s world where bad news tends to make the most noise and the worst news stories are the first we see when we turn on the news, it is a hopeful news story that we hear today as Mary sings her song.  Many of us, if we’re honest, say we want good news, but we won’t buy it.  A few years ago in Sacramento, the Good News Paper focused only on feel good news stories…but they only lasted 36 months before going bankrupt.  A similar paper even was tried out here in Indiana, and the publishers had to result to giving it away to people!

As a human race, too often we thrive on the drama and suspense and the news that will get talked about, and it’s usually bad.  So the question to pose as we look at Mary’s song of praise is, do we lack of enthusiasm for the Christmas story because the good news can be boring?  God is love, Mary is the favored and chosen one to bear Jesus who doesn’t put up much of a fight, Joseph is a righteous man, and Jesus will come as a sweet little baby.  We’ve heard the story so many times and have seen one too many Christmas pageants.  Maybe it just doesn’t excite us anymore.

But we are told that Mary pondered what kind of greeting this might be from the angel.  Perhaps she expected bad news…but what unfolds is a story that she succeeds in making headline news out of what God has done and will do.  God will use her to turn the world upside down.  She will certainly make the tabloids as an unwed mother in an unkind and unaccepting world, but she is determined to see this good news story unfold all the way to the end, and puts her trust in God in the midst of it.

Her song is a song of praise, placed into motion by the Spirit of God and a woman who affirmed her holy and divine state: her body as a holy vessel.  The final verses of the song praise the accessibility of God’s mercy- first as it was experienced by Abraham, then to the nation of Israel, and now, to all descendants of Abraham forever.  This was her first love letter to her child, inspired by none other than God himself.

Corey and I have been hard at work over the last few weeks preparing for our baby.  Perhaps now is the time I need to put my first love letter to my child at the top of the list.  Mary now has the same journey of preparation, but with very different and difficult implications, not just for her, but for the entire world.  As we begin this season of Advent- of waiting, of anticipation, of hesitation, and joy, may we hear these words of Mary’s song as a guide to how we can praise God in the midst of uncertain circumstances and in the midst of an often unkind and broken world.  As we enter into Advent, may we come with the same rejoicing and preparation as Mary, knowing that while the good news doesn’t always make the headlines, it certainly should in this case and in our lives.  Mary’s news in the form of a song speaks for itself.  Hear these words once again as we close this time together:

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!   In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.  Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.  He has shown strength with his arm.  He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.  He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.  He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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