This morning all four of our Advent candles are finally lit…
We are coming to the end of the reflective season of Advent— this afternoon at Trinity, once again we will hear the familiar stories of Christmas and we’ll finally be able to sing some of those beloved Christmas hymns and carols that we have carefully kept under wraps for the last four weeks—
Hark the Herald angels sing…
O come, all ye faithful…
Joy to the world.
Today, as a kind of prelude to all the music that is to come, mother Mary sings Magnificat. And what a song it is. Listen again:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
The Mary who sings this subversive song is radically different than the quiet, submissive Hallmark card Mary who gazes at her sleeping baby in pious devotion. And Luke’s Mary certainly doesn’t fit the schmaltzy songs our culture—and even our tradition—give us.
One commentator I read this week calls her “Mary, the bad-ass mother of God.” 1 I’m not sure I’d use that language, but she surely isn’t mother Mary, meek and mild.
The courageous young woman we find in Scripture is a simple peasant girl from a backwater village in Galilee.
She’s already betrothed to a man many years her senior— it’s probably a match made by her father. She’s living in occupied territory, never knowing what the occupiers might do next. Mary is living on the edge, without a safety net.
And yet, when Gabriel comes calling that fateful day, she says “Yes” to God’s call to her. Young, at risk, without a safety net, she says “yes.” Knowing just a hint of what it might cost her, she says “yes.”
When she answers Gabriel, her “yes” is simple enough. But when she travels to the hill country of Judea and greets her pregnant kinswoman Elizabeth, this feisty young woman amplifies and expands her “yes” in the Magnificat. The mighty song she sings begins with a paean of praise, which then blossoms into a song of hope. The Magnificat reads almost like a manifesto. Mary has a hopeful vision of God’s upside down kingdom to share with us—a place where the humble are lifted up and the hungry are fed.
In her vision, Mary sees that kingdom as already complete and available to all generations, if we will believe her narrative of hope and act on it.
Scripture doesn’t tell us much about Jesus’ growing up years, but if the words of the Magnificat continued to be part of Mary’s narrative, it’s no wonder Jesus grew up to be the man he was. He called for justice; he wasn’t afraid to confront the rich and the powerful. He called out oppression, identified with the marginalized, and was always, always on the side of the poor and those who were outcast. In short, he lived his mother’s Magnificat.
The narratives—the stories— that touch us and inform our lives are important. Some days, though, especially recently, it feels as if the narratives of fear and despair are all we hear—this year, it’s particularly hard to avoid all the political invective that bombards us from every type of media. Is it any wonder that so many of us are worried, hostile, and angry, given the dismal words that come out of our politicians’ mouths?
Add to that, the gun violence that afflicts our nation and the terrors of conflicts near and far seem to have become a terrible new normal.
To make matters even worse, as a nation, we are upset in so many divergent ways—we aren’t even unified in our distress.
But a narrative of hope also swirls around us, and that’s the one that Mary gives us today.
In the field of mental health, there is a mode of treatment called “narrative therapy. “ This treatment is based on the premise that positive narratives create beneficial change.
In this form of therapy, patient and clinician review the patient’s circumstances and various incidents in his or her life. In the course of treatment, the therapist helps the patient reframe the negative experiences of life in new and healthy ways.
This in turn helps the patient recognize the strength and resiliency that he or she already has, which in turn allows the person to move forward in a healthier and more positive way.
Mary’s Magnificat was the positive narrative that got her though much in her life. Imagine some of the consequences that followed her “yes” to Gabriel: unmarried and pregnant, she loses her reputation…with faithful Joseph, she travels far from home and hearth… she births her baby among strangers… her baby’s life is threatened and they need to leave the country…and for years, she and Joseph stay far away from home to keep their child safe.
Like the current Syrian refugees, Mary and Joseph were people fleeing unsafe conditions, trying to find a place to be safe and secure and take care of their children.
Through all of this, Mary’s Magnificat—that hopeful and hope filled narrative—must have anchored her, given her courage, and helped her trust the God who had given her such a difficult path to travel.
So this last Sunday of Advent in 2015, our task is to take Mary’s positive narrative and make it our own. Can we echo her “yes” and sing that song of hope with her?
Because, even when the narratives of despair and fear swirl around us, hope changes everything.
As we finish the Christmas countdown this week, remember this: Advent is not about decorating our homes and buying gifts. Advent is about bringing Jesus to birth in our own hearts and in our own lives.
Let’s allow the courageous and feisty Mary, the badass Mother of God to be our companion on the way to Bethlehem and beyond.
Because when we say “yes” to God in our own lives, Mary becomes our model, and Magnificat becomes our song.