nd Scripture: Luke 1:26-56
The 60s was a turbulent time; I was in university in the early 60s, and I was a member of the Out of Doors Society. We were quite a large group and, each Saturday, we hired a bus to take us to various places where we would walk a footpath or trail, and the bus would pick us up at the other end. Coming back in the bus, we sang. In Britain back then, church wasn’t the only place where we sang. Growing up in Wales, I remember singing at family parties, in pubs and clubs, and of course at rugby matches. Mostly we sang rugby songs, often in Welsh, like Sospan Fach or hymns like Cwm Rhondda, otherwise known as Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.
Protest songs for the 60’s
On these bus trips, I learned new songs. They were songs of protest. “We Shall Overcome”, a song from the civil rights movement; “Where have all the flowers gone, (gone to soldiers everyone)” protesting war, including the Vietnam war. These songs often protested events far from our lives. But many antiwar songs were relevant in our situation. It was the time of the Cold War, when both sides we’re amassing atomic bombs. And, unlike our counterparts in the US who were protesting sending their soldiers to a war thousands of miles away in Vietnam, our fears were that we were close enough for Russian missiles launched in Eastern Europe to reach our British shores.
So we sang with gusto the words of Pete Seager: “if I had a hammer … I’d hammer out justice, I’d hammer out freedom, I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.”
These were songs of protest. People in oppressive situations, helpless to change things, have sung songs of protest over the generations. Slaves in the Americas sang protest songs, now called spirituals. modern youth protest Injustices in their own way with rap songs.
The Magnificat, Mary’s song
In countries and communities where faith in God is a strong part of their lives, these songs of protest often call on God to deliver them whether in this world or the next.
And the Israelites, back in Jesus’ time and earlier, protested with psalms and songs. One such protest song it’s the song we heard today, often called the song of Mary or the Magnificat.
The story of Mary is one of being chosen by God to participate in God’s work of salvation, liberation, reconciliation. Mary is the one who bears the child through whom and in whom God is revealed to humanity. From here we move on to the stable in Bethlehem, where the glory of God is revealed in a child born to Mary.
But we aren’t at Christmas yet; and Advent is about waiting for the birth, as Mary was ding in today’s stories. So, as we wait, lets see some of what can we learn from the stories we heard today and particularly from the Magnificat about Mary.
Fist of all she must have been a young woman in Israel. In those days, women, or should I say girls, were married anytime after they were 13 or had reached puberty. Mary would have been anywhere from 13 to early 20s.
She must have been devout, since at this time of joy and anxiety, she turned to her faith. Her song shows this. It’s what many people of faith do. I know I do. When things go well, I hope I always remember to thank God. And when things are not going well, I turn to my favorite psalm, Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?”
As an aside, have you ever noticed that in that psalm, all I have to do is look up. Everything else happened that happens, God does.
Mary uses the Psalms
Back to Mary. Just as I turned to the Psalms, so does Mary. Look up Psalms 103 and 107. I don’t think that Mary’s song was something that she made-up on the spur of the moment out of nothing. It is likely that she knew the psalms and similar songs of her people, some in the scriptures, and others used in synagogue worship. The Hebrew Bible contains one such song in the book of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10); we call it the song of Hannah, probably a later song added to the text. It, like Mary’s song, starts by praising God, decries the injustices of society, and views God as the bringer of Justice.
So, whether Mary’s song was composed on the spot, or she was singing a hymn known to her all her people, or something in between, really doesn’t matter. The fact is, she turned to the religion of the Israelite people. And she understood what it taught about God. “God has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of God’s mercy, according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever”, she sang.
Mary’s song is about God’s faithfulness
Israel’s God was a covenanting God, in other word, God made covenants. One was with Abraham that God would offer protection and land to Abraham and his descendants, but they must follow the path of God. Building on this covenant with Abraham, during the Exodus from Egypt, God affirmed the Israelites as God’s people, a Holy people. They would receive divine help and protection, on the condition that they accept certain rules of conduct, laid out in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, also called the Law of Moses. Mary praises God who has kept God’s side of the covenants, even though the Israelites were not always faithful to their side. The God who is faithful to the Israelites will keep his promise to Mary, as well.
Mary’s Song is about God’s Mercy and love
She also reminds us that God is on the side of the marginalized and the downtrodden. A class she, as a poor peasant in an occupied country, belongs to. She describes the overturning of the current system of consumption and oppression and violence by the norms of God’s kingdom: mercy, justice, and love. And she sings for joy as if these things have already happened. One of the reasons why she can sing this way about the future birth of her child is because it repeats the song of God’s restoration that has been sung throughout the ages. This is good news; this is the Gospel.
Jesus also taught about mercy, justice, and love
Thirty years later, her son will proclaim God’s kingdom and its basis in mercy, justice, and love. Things he learned from his mother Mary and knew from his, and our, heavenly Father. We hear the call to mercy, justice, and love throughout his ministry, from the Beatitudes to the parable of the sheep and goats. We see it in the way he treated the poor and the sick ae experience it in our own lives.
How do we respond to this calling?
The question for us is, as it was for Mary, the disciples, and has been for Christians throughout the ages: “How do we respond to this calling?” Mary said a resounding Yes! – even though she knew it could lead to her death by stoning as an unwed, pregnant woman (Deut 22.23). And she continued to say Yes to God, even though it led to a life of much sorrow, including seeing her son executed as a criminal. For us, our yes isn’t likely to lead us on such a devastating path – though it won’t always be an easy road.
Can we, with Mary, say yes to God, and stay on the path of mercy, justice, and love? I pray that we can.