The Song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is the most passionate and revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. It is not the gentle, dreamy, doe-eyed Mary, but the powerful, courageous, and fiery Mary who speaks here. There are no sweet, saccharine-laced, childish tones we so often find in our Christmas hymns, but, as the German Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “a hard, strong, uncompromising song of bringing down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of this world.
We are journeying with Mary this Advent season. Mary, who was with Jesus from conception to execution… the unwed, teenage mother who raised her child in Nazareth – a place where “nothing good comes from.” Mighty Mary, prophet of Nazareth.
Mary, mother of God.
But also young, fragile Mary – outcast and pariah whose scandalous pregnancy nearly saw her stoned to death by upstanding religious folk; whose fiancé wanted to annul their engagement and get away from this messy situation quick. Her parents and family were likely frustrated, angry and scared.
She needed to leave Nazareth, but had neither the wherewithal nor the conviction to leave her hometown.
And then the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. “Fear not…”
The angel tells Mary that God has chosen her. you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
In the tradition of all call narratives, she resists. “How can this be, I am only…” But then, like the prophets before her, she accepts her calling and says, “Here I am.”
Then the angel tell her to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth who is also miraculously pregnant. Elizabeth and her husband Zecharias have experienced their own share of miracles and angelic encounters.
Mary arrives at her cousin’s home. The Spirit of God falls upon elderly Elizabeth. And the baby in Elizabeth’s womb – who will one day serve as Christ’s forerunner, John the Baptist – jumps. And the Spirit falls upon Elizabeth who says to Mary, “The mother of my Lord has come to visit me! Blessed are you among women.”
People had been looking everywhere for the Messiah, for the savior of the people. They were expecting a militant messiah, a lion, but instead the Savior came as a lamb. Many today, are waiting for Christ’s return – and they too are waiting for a militant messiah, one who will make heads roll.
These woman on the margins – women from communities of ill-repute, from a people occupied by a foreign power – they understood that true power comes from below, by uplifting those on the margins and underside of society.
Mary sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit exults in God my savior.” She begins her song in worship. Magnifying the Lord. When something is magnified its size does not change, but the details of the object – in this case God – are made more visible. She is given eyes to see the character and majesty and mission of God.
And she “exults,” which means she experiences a feeling of elation as the result of a success.” Those who scorned her, mocked and judged her, will not have the last word. In fact, “from now on all generations will call me blessed.”
She sings, “the high and mighty will be brought low, the lowly will be uplifted, the hungry will eat good food, and the rich will be sent away.”
It is in these places where we see God at work, in mission. This is Advent… expectation, and holy yearning. Hope comes from the most unexpected places – sometimes from the despised and broken places.
It is Advent. Let’s be alert, so that we might recognize the Lord all around us, in our midst, even within one another. Let us look for God (who is Love) in our partners and parents and children and teachers. Let us look for the Lord in teenagers and the elderly, as well as the poor and vulnerable.
Let us expect Christ to enter into this world from unexpected places. And like Mary, pregnant with hope and expectation, let us exult in the promise of a world where all are invited to the banquet, and everyone is celebrated for their eternal worth.