Mighty and Holy

Message by Rev. Nindyo Sasongko, PhD student in theology and pastor of Indonesias Muria Christian Church (Mennonite) in the town of Kudos, Indonesia. On December 6, his church celebrated its 97th birthday.

This message is part of our Advent series: Journey with Mary, Pregnant with God.

“…for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.” – Mary (Luke 1:49)

Today, we continue to study the Magnificat, the song of Mary. What does it mean
for us to sing Mary’s song, especially we who live in a big city, and in a relatively affluent
society? As we have heard from our beloved pastor Jason on the First Advent Sunday,
this is a song of a lowly, humble, poor, marginalized, pariah, and downtrodden young
woman.

The name “Mary” or “Mariam” in Greek, or “Miryam” in Hebrew is a common
name among women of the first-century Palestine. At that time, everyone must have
known that there was a lady named “Mariamme,” the Hasmonean wife of King Herod.

The followers of Jesus would soon recognize that this song is not sung by this high-
class woman.

But everyone also knew there is another woman who bore the name “Miryam,”
that is Moses’ sister. She was known a hero in the Exodus, even the composer of the
very first, the oldest, song of liberation.

Like Miryam whose song is the oldest song in the Old Testament, so is Mary’s
song in the New Testament. Just as Miryam who sings God’s liberation for God’s
oppressed people from Egypt, so is Mary who raises her voice, praising God’s mighty
deeds for what God has done again for the oppressed people under the Roman Empire.
Here, in Mary, we do not see an image of a weak and melancholic woman, but a
strong prophetess of liberation. We see Mary who is not merely a poor and lowly
person, but a faithful daughter of Israel, poet, singer, and servant of God. From Mary, 2 we hear again the themes of exultation, freedom, exhilaration, revelation. She sings a
song of victory, a song of liberation!

In Luke’s rendition of Mary’s victory song, the God of the covenant and Israel, is
not the One who is enthroned in heaven. God is not sitting in the heaven with white-long
beard and fancy hat on a fluffy throne. God is in action; God moves out into the whole
world; God is among us. What was promised to Israel, is now being given to all nations
and peoples? Soon, this song will be sung by those who yearn for justice, freedom,
mercy, peace, and hope.

What does it mean for us to sing Mary’s song? Megan McKenna quotes a
marvelous, stunning, and mystical piece by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. This passage
gives us insights into the Magnificat from a Jewish perspective. This is called “A
Fourfold Song.” It reads:

* There is one who sings the song of her own life, and in herself, she finds
everything, her spiritual satisfaction.

There is another who sings the song of his people. He leaves the circle of his
own individual self, because he finds it without sufficient breadth, without an
idealistic basis. He aspires toward the heights, and attaches himself with a gentle
love to the whole community of Israel. Together with her, he sings her songs. He
feels grieved in her afflictions and delights in her hopes. He contemplates noble
and pure thoughts about her past and her future, and robes with love and
wisdom her inner spiritual essence. . . .

There is another who reaches toward wider horizons, until he links himself
with all existence, with all God’s creatures, with all worlds, and he sings his song
with all of them. It is of one such as this that tradition has said that whoever sings
a portion of song each day is assured of having a share in the world to come.
And then there is one who rises with all these songs in one ensemble, and
they all join voices. Together they sing their songs with beauty, each one lends
vitality and life of the other. They are sounds of joy and gladness, sounds of
jubilation and celebration, sounds of ecstasy and holiness. 3

The song of self, the song of the people, the song of humanity, the song of the
world all merge in her at all times and in every hour.1 When we sing Mary’s song, we are sharing her tradition and heritage. She is a faithful Israel, and so are we. We who live in the twenty-first century unite ourselves with the first-century Mary. We sing with Mary about the mighty deeds and holiness of God—the song of God!

But do we know that in singing this song, and as we are transformed to embody
the words of this song, we become ourselves the song of God? We become Israel, not
only a word which means “someone who looks upon God,” or in Hebrew ish-ra-el, but
also shir-el, the song of God! Think about this: The sons and daughters of God become
the song of God!

We believe that this song will be “enfleshed” into the flesh of her flesh, the soon-
to-be-born son. Jesus will embody every tone and word of his mother’s song; the tone

will be etched in the memory and muscles of her child’s heart and palms; her intent will
form the structure of his very bones and life and death.

We believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the source of all unity, of all creation, that
has come to liberate those who walk in holiness and fullness of life in God, those who
do not submit themselves to the powers that be.

But singing again Mary’s song means that we join our flesh, voice, and words
with those of the downtrodden, the despised, the unwanted, people who yearns for
justice: the incarcerated and the discriminated due to their racial or ethnic or sexual
orientation differences, women and children in Palestine, in Syria, victims of human
trafficking, survivors of the Indonesian mass killings of 1965-1966, and so on.

Singing this song means that we are willing to share their sorrows and wounds.
We sing a song of humanity, the song of the wounded world by acknowledging that we
are living in a broken and unjust world. Advent season must be a season of longing, a
season of yearning for us and all who live on this planet. To sing Mary’s song means to 1. Megan McKenna, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: Stories and Reflections on the Daily Readings (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1998), 149-150.4 reach with our voice and presence, our very lives, into the song of the world, making all
things one in Jesus Christ.

As Christ’s disciples with Mary, as followers of the One in whose flesh Mary’s
song is embodied, we believe that these words have become flesh and dwelt among us
in Jesus. Now is the time to practice and rehearse this liberating song. If we are singing
with Mary here and right now, soon we will be entertained by the heavenly choir, singing

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
The heavenly song will be a song of welcoming the despised, and of hope for the
hopeless because the Promised One is born. It is the time of the mingling of the heaven
and earth. But our song is anticipating that of the heavenly song. So, in singing our
song, we must make sure that we are in tune with the song of Mary, the mother of
Jesus.

I ask you now to ponder on two words in Mary’s song: “mighty” and “holy.” Mary
says, “for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (v. 49).

The God who is mighty and holy is the source of Mary’s blessedness. To be blessed
here means to be happy. Think again, how can a poor and pariah be happy? The
answer is clear and straightforward—God, God who is mighty and holy.
God’s mighty and holy name will bless all who are poor and promise them the
kingdom of God.

God will bless the hungry, and they will be satisfied.
God will bless the weep, and they will laugh.
God will bless the victims of hatred, and their reward is great in heaven.
But we must not forget that God will also woe those who think that they do not
need God, those who think they can live with their riches and pride.

The Jewish people in the time of Jesus recall the mighty and holy name of God
again and again. The early Aram Kaddish prayer, says, “Magnified and sanctified be
[God’s] great name.” All benedictions must also include the mighty and holy name of
God. A Jewish Midrash or teaching says, “Any benediction in which God’s name is not5

mentioned is no benediction.” 2

In her song, Mary recalls Israel’s benediction. She remembers God’s name, for that is the source of her joy!

What does it mean to sing Mary’s song again for our time? On Saturday noon, last week, I was sitting in a café around Union Square Park. A woman with black blouse and hijab approached me, asking for money. I did not bring cash in my pocket. Then she asked me if I would be willing to buy her food.

I said yes, and I let her choose whatever she wanted. She chose sandwich. I
thought, she must have not had her breakfast because she chose sandwich.

As we were waiting for the food, I asked her to sit with me. She said thanks, but
the way she expressed it is remarkable. She said, “May my God give you.” I knew this
kind of expression when I was in Ethiopia. Instead of saying Amesegenalehu, “thank
you,” the Ethiopian people would say in Amharic, Egziabeher yisterling, “May God give
you on behalf of me.”

In expressing thank you, this woman invoked God to give, because she probably
could not give back to me.

I asked her where she came from and how long she had been in the USA. She is
from Croatia and moved to the USA a couple of years ago because of conflict in her
country. She lives with five children, one of whom is intellectually disabled, without
husband or job.

You all know that it is very difficult to live and survive in a big city like New York. I
will not forget her last words, though. “Life is so hard. But God [she pointed her right
index finger upward] is good. May my God give you.”

I was wondering, did I just hear Mary’s song in the café that Saturday noon, sung
by a mother of five with all her mourning and yearning, agony and affliction?
Can we sing again the song of Mary? Will we sing Mary’s song today? But, it is
also important to ask where we sing that song in our lifetime. AMEN.

2. Amy-Jill Levine, et al., Jewish Annotated Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 138. 6

Bibliography:
Brown, Raymond E. Christ in the Gospels of the Liturgical Year. Collegeville: Paulist,
2008.
Levine, Amy-Jill. The Jewish Annotated New Testament. Second Edition. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2017.
McKenna, Megan. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany: Stories and Reflections on the
Daily Readings. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1998.