During this season of Advent, Sanctuary Dinner Church conversations are focusing on learning from Mary of Nazareth leading to the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.
Text: Luke 1:46-56
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God’s name.
50 God’s mercy is for those who fear God
from generation to generation.
51 God has shown strength with God’s arm;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 God has helped God’s servant Israel,
in remembrance of God’s mercy,
55 according to the promise God made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to God's descendants forever.”
56 And Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.
On Liberation & [Extra]Ordinary Revolution
We have come to our final Sunday of Advent. In the Scripture reading, we hear the words of Mary of Nazareth— her interpretation of the events leading to Jesus’ birth. This song in the Gospel of Luke, sung by a woman at the bottom of social hierarchy in her time is a lens that we cannot interpret well the incarnation of God in Jesus, the coming of Israel’s Messiah, the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ, which leads to salvation— Jesus as Savior of the world. Because without Mary’s song, we are prone to a theology that views incarnation, messianic promise, and salvation as individualized, as less than complete liberation from all oppression, as something compartmentalized as “spiritual” with maybe a sprinkling of “social justice.”
Because of this, Mary’s words have wisely been viewed as a threat to those in power. “They were banned from being read or sung in India during the British colonial administration and in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980’s. Argentina outlawed them during the Dirty War years— the mothers of disappeared children put Mary’s song on public display and in response, the government forbade the words in public places.” (Taken from the post “Modern Mary: What a Pregnant Refugee Minority Teenager Would Sing Today.”)
Mary’s song— followed later in Luke by Jesus’ own words confirming his mission:
“The Spirit of the the Lord is upon me
Because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
—these are the proclamations of a new exodus. A complete liberation. Spiritual, physical, political, mental...liberation. Jesus is the Liberator of the World.
Miriam, the first prophetess of the newly freed Hebrew people, sang with her brother Moses (Ex 15):
I will sing to the Lord,
for God is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
God has hurled into the sea.
“The Lord is my strength and my defense;
God has become my salvation.
The Lord is my God, and I will praise the Lord,
my father’s God, and I will exalt the Lord.
God has become my salvation. Freedom from slavery in Egypt was salvation. But it was not complete. Oppressive systems formed in Israel. And throughout the world oppressive systems continued to rule and battle one another— nations, religions, cultures, norms—that imprison, enslave, injure, and indenture (literally and metaphorically). A larger liberation than crossing the Red Sea was dreamed of, visioned, proclaimed by prophets. And Mary of Nazareth envisions this liberation on the horizon through her unborn child.
I had the song Mary Did You Know stuck in my head as I was writing this. People tend to have love/hate feelings about the song...but it is catchy and, depending often on how its sung and who its sung by, it can either be beautiful or condescending. This is what Mary knew— that God is a God of liberation. Mary knew that deep in her bones. Her song does not speak of the future, but of what God has done and is already doing:
God has scattered the proud
God has brought down the powerful
God has lifted up the lowly
God has filled the hungry with good things
God has sent the rich away empty
God has done these things in Mary already. Mary praises God, and in herself embodies the work of God’s liberation that an unmarried, pregnant, Jewish woman in occupied Palestine will be called blessed by all generations. Mary prophecies revolution, and lives into that prophecy in herself. Mary knew what was happening, but like everyone else, she did not know how. God had put into motion God’s plan for salvation— for freedom from all oppression— but would it come through battle, through the words of prophecy, through religious means? Mary did not know, just as Jesus’ disciples didn’t know.
So Mary lived in what she did know. God is a God of freedom. And God was in the process of raising up those on the bottom and toppling down those on the top. Mary would live her role in the story of salvation. She would bear and raise the one who the Spirit would be upon to bring that Good News to the poor.
In Mary’s song, we have a lens, for understanding God’s salvation and Jesus’ life and ministry and death and resurrection...the Kingdom Christ began... as liberative, as world-changing, as all encompassing— individual, communal, political, religious, spiritual, physical...everything freed. AND in Mary’s song, in who she is as the singer, we have a lens for how we may live in that promise of liberation. Through parenthood (whether literal or metaphorical), through poetry, through prayer, through contemplation, through courageous yet seemingly small, unnoticed actions. God is a God of liberation. Mary calls us to place our hope AND our actions in that. Whether in the loudest, biggest ways or the quiet, small ones.