It seems everybody shows up at the manger scene these days, from Avengers, Yoda and dinosaur figures to household pets. We chuckle at a wider circle of witnesses to the birth of the Christ child and somehow find it fitting. We wonder when our additions will be discovered and hope they get to stay (OK, maybe not the cat). Other than Jesus, the one figure who is ever focal is Mary, often too serene to be taken seriously.
A picture circulating on social media portrays Joseph holding the baby with his hardened carpenter hands while Mary takes a nap. Women applaud this vision; men may feel more included in the story, which is appropriate. It is another attempt to render the young mother as one of us rather than the “Queen of Heaven” who is unperturbed by the messiness of birthing and strange visitors. Strong she is, and her faith beckons Baptists and other Protestant Christians to take her more seriously, especially as we consider the content of her rejoicing proclamation.
Mary’s song literally leaps off the page of the Lukan Gospel (1:46-55). It just might be the most joyful hymn ever as she celebrates the great good news that she will bring God’s own Son into the world. It is breathtaking in its sweep, recounting God’s faithfulness to all generations. Her spirit rejoices, and she invites us to share her joy.
Mary’s canticle sets the tone for the whole of this Gospel, and its theological themes will reverberate in the preaching and ministry of Jesus. It appears that Jesus learned some of this theology from his mamma! Listen to his first sermon in Nazareth to catch an echo of Mary’s song.
Similar to Hannah’s prayer as she desperately longed for a child, this hymn of prophetic thanks stirs our gratitude. The birth announcement to Mary comes as a surprise, and it discloses God’s mighty power. Like creation in the beginning, bringing the world into being out of nothing, the emptiness of the virgin’s womb is no hindrance to God’s creative act. Mary has faith in this kind of God.
Sometimes called the first disciple, Mary believed before she conceived. Though deliberative in her response, she trusted the messenger of God, Gabriel, and gave thanks that she had a blessed role to play in God’s great redemptive project. She was willing to face the contempt of her community to be faithful to her unique calling from God. Far from the domesticated, docile image of quiet maternity, Mary is a courageous and strong woman who is able to perceive the mystery of God’s handiwork.
Known throughout the Christian world as the Magnificat, this rejoicing hymn not only celebrates God’s great gift in her life, but also magnifies God’s plan to put the world to rights. Generations who have longed for justice will see the mighty cast down, the proud scattered and the lowly lifted up. God will fill the hungry with good things, and the rich will be sent away empty.
These are radical words, and it is clear that Mary represents the faithful people of the land, a remnant, who continue to look for the coming of the Messiah. Her song tells forth the ancient hope of her forebears, who trusted that God’s own anointed One will save the people.
The arrogant of heart and mind will not endure; the humble will ultimately endure. God will show mercy, and God’s might will conquer those who oppose justice. The birth of the child will signal to a beleaguered people that they are not forgotten. This hope continues to sustain many as they await justice.
“Mary is a courageous and strong woman who is able to perceive the mystery of God’s handiwork.”
Luke is surely up to something as he places this liberating canticle in the midst of a conversation between two women, both pregnant with promise. Could it be that God is more at work in them than in the palace of power? Some scholars suggest that while Paul was in prison in Caesarea, Luke travelled to the hill country where a Marian circle kept alive the stories of Mary and Elizabeth, which helped shape the distinctive narratives of his Gospel, including several canticles.
Martin Luther wrote about the places God liked to hide – in the cradle and in the cross. God hides today in the refugee who waits to be reunited with family. God hides in the young woman seeking to express her calling. God hides in the elder whose light continues to illumine the pathway for others. God’s humility expresses itself through identifying with those we deem expendable.
As we continue in these days of Advent expectation, let us rejoice with Mary that God keeps promises and will ultimately conquer all that tramples the weak and outcast. The Mighty One did great things for her – and will for us. As we approach Gaudete Sunday, let us share her song.