I write this while gazing out of an upper bedroom window, nearing the end of December, in Montana. Snow falling overnight coated the peaked roof with fluffy white joy. It’s difficult to think of the coming of Lent, yet this article will be published in February, when we begin the journey from Lent into Easter.
It is such a short span of time in a contemporary setting – from birth to death to resurrection in mere months.
Mary is reported to have burst into song when her cousin Elizabeth greeted her; and John, while in utero, heard Mary’s voice and leaped for joy. Having never given birth, I cannot know, yet I suspect the feeling of an infant leaping for joy in one’s womb to be disconcerting at best — downright terrifying at worst.
Mary bursting into song in what has become known as “The Magnificat” is something that we traditionally hear during Advent, when it is tucked away again, unless participating in Vespers or a sung Evening Prayer, when it will be said or sung again.
We often forget that Mary was a regular Palestinian teenager when she was chosen to be the “Theotokos,” the bearer of light. Whom we know as Jesus the Christ. Frankly stated; without Mary, there is no Emmanuel. Without the light-bearer, there is no light.
Let me set the stage – Mary has hastened to visit her cousin Elizabeth as she prepares to give birth. Elizabeth’s baby, John, hears Mary’s voice, in utero and leaps for joy.
Then we read:
“And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’” (Luke 1.40-45, NRSV)
Mary has been visited by an angel and has kept this information to herself, which is absolutely understandable. Yet after her cousin recognises just who she is and just what she is about to do, Mary responds with what Heidi Newmark, American theologian, Lutheran Minister and Keynote Speaker from our Clergy Conference this year, referred to as a “battle cry.”
Mary sang the words of the Magnificat as a call to arms. A call to overthrow the establishment — to call the heavenly hosts together in an act of defiance! Calling God to use her as a vessel for justice and a mouthpiece of uprising.
The world is about to get turned on its head, everything that had been previously known is going to flip itself around. Listen to
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 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.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ (Luke 1.46-55, NRSV)
Society at that time was all about leadership by fear – Roman occupation and ruling through terror.
God is doing a new thing – and Mary is the one who will make it a reality.
God needs someone to birth that light that cannot be extinguished to the world. God will not create this blessed being from earth, as God did with the first earthling, Adam. Rather, God will create this new being from human flesh. Flesh taken from a young woman who is prepared to stand the establishment on its end. She proclaims that God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, has filled up the meek and lowly with good things and sent the powerful away empty-handed. Certainly not what was expected in those days and certainly not what is expected these days. The radical words of the Magnificat reaching through time
create a message which is needed 2,000 years after Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection.
Once and for all, the mighty will receive their due justice. Once and for all, the hungry will be fed and the rich will leave empty-handed.
In today’s society, could that mean there will be enough for all? There will not be hoarding and hunger in the same communities? The ultrarich will pay their fair share and the taxation laws will apply equally to everyone?
I wonder if Jesus knew what a radical his mother was, as he was growing up? He certainly did learn from her in terms of recognising the dignity of every human being and treating the meek and lowly with dignity and justice.
Ben Wildflower is a printmaker from Philadelphia who printed a fantastically startling image of Mary, tucked inside a giant letter “O”. Her right arm is lifted, her hand in a fist, while her right foot stands on a skull and serpent. Inscribed inside the letter are the words “Fill the Hungry, Lift the Lowly” and framing the piece are the phrases “Cast Down the Mighty” and “Send the Rich Away.”
We have work to do, as God’s hands and feet in the world.
We need to take a page from Mary’s book and challenge those forces which create injustice and inequality.
The world that God foresaw, that Mary made possible and that Jesus worked towards, was a world in which every human being was treated with the utmost decency and dignity. Where every voice was heard. Where every heart would celebrate the unadulterated nostrings attached love of God.
We’re not there yet … yet I am hopeful that together we can make that world a reality. A world where everyone is equal. Where resources of plenty are shared and distributed with joy, making enough for all, rather than too much in one area and not enough in another. Am I naive? Absolutely.
And I am also crazy enough to change myself and my own corner of creation and, God-willing, begin a chain reaction, stretching from the Elk Valley to the Shuswap and all points in between, that will, eventually, change the world. One heart, mind, body and soul at a time.
Someone asked me what my wish for the New Year is. What I want is a kinder world. A gentler place where Mary’s battle cry is heard today, 2,000 years later, and loved into reality.
—A place where the world learns to share instead of hoard.
—A place where decision makers consider the people ahead of the policy.
—A place where justice is a reality for all — regardless of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, economic reality, or of personal identity.
—A place of kindness. Of respect. Of hope, peace, love and joy.
—A place where war ends, and the world knows only love.
—A place where children learn to love instead of to fear.
—And a place where all come to know and have deep, meaningful relationships with the divine, in whatever way that divinity is manifested.
Remembering the night that love came down to earth as Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with and-among-us by his mother Mary; theotokos, God-bearer, bringer of the light. She, who has been remembered for generations and referred to as blessed. She who birthed the One who would be known as the light which cannot be extinguished. All beginning from the words of Mary — the Magnificat — as a battle cry of the radical!