Sunday, December 20, 2020
Advent 4 – Lessons and Carols
During this time of year in preparation for Christmas, we see a lot of images and stories of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. She is often portrayed as meek and mild. She is in creche scenes dressed in blue. Young children portray her in pageants. It is one of prime roles in pageants. We hear about her purity, her faith, her willing to accept this role in her encounter with the Angel.
On this Sunday of Advent I would like to approach Mary from another angle. I want to focus on Mary the prophet, Mary the voice of the downtrodden, Mary the singer of the Magnificat , God’s beautiful justice song.
The Magnificat is the song Luke attributes to Mary in the first chapter of Luke. Did you know that Mary’s song is the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the bible? It is soaked in the words and stories of Jewish history, echoing the words of Miriam, Hannah, Judith, and Deborah.
The words of the song of Mary have had social and political implications for many years. It’s lyrics were banned many times in modern history.
When the British ruled India, the Magnificat was prohibited from being sung in churches. In Argentina, after the mothers of disappeared children posted the words of the Magnificat on the public walls, the military dictatorship banned the song from public displays. Mary’s vision of hope was decided was too dangerous a thing for public consumption.
This gives us a different view of Mary and all she goes through in her life. The Nativity story is not just about the birth of child but a call for a better world.
I would like to focus on a couple of lines from the Magnificat as we move closer to celebrating the birth of Jesus next week.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”.
One thing the Magnifcat points to is Joy. It reminds us that the appropriate response to God’s presence in our lives is Joy. Not fear. Not guilt. Not obligation. JOY.
Deep and irresistible joy is at the heart of the entire Christmas story. The angels announce to the shepherds, “Good news of Great Joy.”
This is important to the life of faith. Mary responds to God with great joy. This must not be easy. She is a poor girl living under brutal imperial rule. She is unmarried and pregnant in a culture
that frowns upon and even kills young women in that condition. It is not clear if Joseph will stick by her. She visits her cousin Elizabeth in another town because she might not feel safe in her
Yet Mary sings of joy. She trusts in God. She believes that despite the circumstances God is working in her life for good. What would it be like if we could do that in our lives ? To find joy in all
circumstances even the most difficult. Can we make joy a part of our lives ?
The second line I would like to highlight is:
“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
After Mary sings her joy and God’s delight, she finds her prophetic voice. She speaks of hope and justice for the world’s poorest, most
forgotten, most brokenhearted and most oppressed people. She describes a reality in which the hungry are fed and the rich sent away. The powerful are brought down and the lowly lifted up. In short, Mary describes a world reordered and renewed a world so beautifully filled by love and justice, only the Christ she carries in her womb can birth it into being.
These are the words that get Mary in trouble. These are the words that get banned in key moments in history. These are the words that challenge us and give us hope. It presents a world we all long for. We have made progress in it but it is still a long way to go.
Living through this pandemic has pointed us all to look at what is important in our lives. This brings our faith into all of life not just a nice worship song but cuts to the heart of who we are to be. We come to love the helpless infant on Christmas day but he is one who grew up to raise valleys and level mountains, to liberate the oppressed and dethrone the arrogant. Christmas is a powerful story because it is about God coming to us to live among and to
challenge our world and our assumptions. This is Mary’s justice song.
It is interesting because Mary describes these divine reversals as if they have already happened.
“He has brought down”.
“He has filled”.
“He has sent”.
Barbara Brown Taylor, Anglican Priest, writes, “Prophets almost never get their verb tenses straight, because part of their gift is
being able to see the world as God sees it – not divided into things that are already over and things that have not happened yet, but as an eternally unfolding mystery that surprises everyone, maybe even God.”
The Magnificat is a song of too much hope. Of course it is, because “too much hope” is precisely what we are called to nurture on this fourth and final Sunday of Advent.
How is God Magnified through your life?
What stories of divine favour do you have to tell?
What glorious reversals do you see heading your way?
What words will you choose to describe the Good news of the Messiah you carry?
May we make these words our words,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”