The Nativity is a longstanding symbol of the Advent and Christmas Seasons depicting the holy family gathered together on that blessed night. As we view the scene of the Nativity, our attention is of course drawn to Jesus, the new born babe. Yet, we cannot help but give some attention to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and ponder what thoughts were in her mind that night.
Although Mary is a central
figure in Christian history, she is perhaps one of its most enigmatic
figures. Much of the problem in our not knowing Mary more fully is that
the biblical texts do not offer us a lot of insight into Mary’s life,
particularly after Jesus’ childhood.
while Mary remains somewhat of a mystery to us, beyond her giving birth to Jesus,
there is one piece of biblical material that offers us insight into the
kind of person Mary may have been. The song of Mary, or as it is known
by its Latin title, the Magnificat, is found in Luke 1:46-55, and may give us enough material to help us understand her and her impact on Christianity.
an historical critical viewpoint, we must admit that Mary may not have
actually sung these words. It is probably the case that the author of
this Gospel created this poem and placed it on the lips of Mary.
However, this does not mean that Mary would not have sung such a song.
Indeed, by placing this song on Mary’s lips, the author of Luke’s Gospel
may have understood that such a poem fits Mary’s perspective on the
birth of her son.
But beyond these historical issues,
we are left with this narrative character singing a song that is very
personal; expressing her joy for what God was doing in her life. It is a
song that comes from deep within her as she responds to the mighty
promises of God. It is a song she sings as a result of her hope in what
God is doing both in her and through her. Indeed, it is because of the
joy that wells inside her that she cannot help but sing this song.
at the same time that Mary’s song is a song of personal spiritual
fulfillment and hope in the promises of God, it is also a very
revolutionary song. It is a political song. It is a song about social
justice. It is a song about the redistribution of power and wealth. It
is, in fact, a politically dangerous song for Mary to sing at her time
and at her place in life.
She is a young peasant
female who sings as an unlikely and unauthorized prophet, declaring the
coming of God. Outside the religious power structures of formal Judaism,
this young peasant female sings a song that is a radical shift from the
religious messages of her day, and her vision of God is starkly
different from that held by the religious establishment.
vision of God shaped her understanding that God was turning upside down
the normal power structures of her society. Her song announced that the
proud and powerful would be cast down from their high places, and the
lowly would be lifted up. The hungry would be fed, and the rich would
have nothing. She understood that God was coming to alter the economics
of her world by redistributing wealth and by overturning the normal
politics of her world that were based on status.
may give us some insight into the kind of person Mary really was. For
her to sing a song that is so dangerous and so subversive, and one that
is focused on justice for the poor and oppressed of her time, meant that
she hungered for justice not just for herself, but for all her people.
She witnessed daily the pain and struggle of the marginalized and
oppressed poor around her, and she found in God’s visitation of her a
sense of hope that things were moving toward God’s justice and peace.
Does this sound familiar to you? It should.
For what we find buried in Mary’s song is the message of her son, Jesus.
Though I have no strong evidence for this, I believe that more than any
other person who shaped Jesus’ central message of justice for the poor
and freedom for the oppressed, it was Mary’s world view that had the
greatest impact on him.
But all of this raises a significant question
for us this Christmas Season. While we sing the popular carols of
Christmas, do we dare to sing Mary’s song? And if we chose to sing
Mary’s song, can we envision and enact a new economy that embodies
simplicity and generosity, and a new culture that is characterized by
welcoming strangers and loving our neighbors and our enemies?
In our greed and consumption driven cultural celebration of Christmas, Mary's song stands as the first "War of Christmas"; one that challenges our American values and calls us to embrace the values of God and of God’s son, Jesus.
song is not just her song, and she should not sing it alone. It is a
song followers of Jesus are to sing throughout all generations. But we
cannot just sing this song, and continue to pay lip service to God. It
is a song we are called to live in defiance of the norms of our culture
until God’s revolutionary hope for the world is fulfilled.