Once upon a time, in a Galilee far, far away, there lived a young woman, a teenager, a Jewish peasant girl. And, God help her, she is pregnant and unmarried.
She dwells in a land occupied by a great and mighty empire, Rome ... a land occupied, controlled by an army ... a peace enforced by the threat of violence or actual violence: you choose.
The occupation of Mary’s land means that Mary’s heart and life, and her people’s hearts and lives, are also occupied, occupied by insecurity and fear.
Young Mary chafes at occupation ... at its degrading fear. She decides to undertake an inconvenient, costly journey to visit her elderly cousin. Did I say elderly? Let me tell you about Aunt Elizabeth: she is as old as the hills.
Mary’s journey from Galilee to Aunt Elizabeth’s home in the hill country is probably 80-100 miles. (Imagine an unmarried, pregnant teenager undertaking a journey from Newton, MA to Stockbridge, MA by foot.)
It is a journey and undertaking of many days and many nights. This is a young woman of some spunk and determination, of imagination and resolve?
Days later, foot-sore and aching, Mary finally arrives in the hill country. She asks for directions, locates the home of her Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zechariah and knocks.
Aunt Elizabeth opens the door. She is, as Mary expected her to be: old ... old as the hills. Aunt Elizabeth is not just old, she too is pregnant. Ancient Aunt Elizabeth is roundly, profoundly, astoundingly pregnant.
Young Mary and aged Aunt Elizabeth embrace: pregnant tummy to pregnant tummy, womb to womb. Tangled in each other’s arms they are by turns crying and laughing.
And Mary—the young, pregnant, unmarried teenager from Galilee—starts singing. That’s how Luke tells it. Mary breaks out into song. It is an old song, old as the hills and saturated in the ancient texts and stories.
And, yet, Mary’s song is also new ... new and fresh, surprising and uprising.
It is a bridge, this song: between the Old and the New, between the past and the future, between the way it is—right now, today—in this occupied, violent, grief-drenched world and the way it will be ... in God’s time.
“My soul magnifies God, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant ... God has looked with favor on a spunky, defiant, unmarried, pregnant, peasant girl in an occupied land.
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has dispersed the ones who strut and stride, whose power and wealth protect them ennoble them ... and, what’s worse, worst of all ... whose outsized pride inures and hardens them to the suffering of others. It is this that get’s God’s goat.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and raised the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things (with food ... and more than food: peace, security, with leisure and laughter) and sent the rich away empty ... the rich, God help them ... are learning hunger, pain, fear.
It is quite a song. It is a song of reversals and revolution. Make no mistake about it: Mary’s song is a revolutionary song for a revolutionary religion. It is a song that issues from the very being of a God who upends human contrivances.
I have to ask. On this third Sunday of Advent ... as we race toward the day Mary gives birth to the child who will change the world: Did you really know what you were getting into when you signed on to follow Jesus?
I have to ask. You know Jesus as a gentle shepherd, but did you sign on for his anger as well ... for the trouble he stirred in the Temple, and in the village, and in the city ... and in the social order?
I have to ask. Did you know that God professes a special love for the least, the lost, the lowly ... and, conversely, that God has an attitude about oppressors?
You know what Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin and the Marquis de Sade all said about religion ... that it acts as an opiate ... pacifying us and mollifying us ... numbing us to violence ... inuring us to injustice ... to human suffering
Maybe. Maybe some religion. But not the religion of Jesus. Not the religion of which Mary sings. This is no opiate.
C. S. Lewis wrote about Mary’s song: “The Magnificat is terrifying. It should make (y)our blood run cold.” (Christian Reflections, p. 120).
The great Methodist Missionary, e. Stanley Jones, called the Magnificat “the most revolutionary document in the world”
I have to ask: Are you ready? Are you able? Are you willing to join the revolution? Are you willing to participate in the death of pride?
Are you willing to be among those who lift up of the lost, the least, the lowly? Are you willing and able to buck the system and participate in the redistribution of the world’s resources?
Mary’s song is a revolutionary song for a revolutionary religion. It is a song that issues from the very being of a God who upends human contrivances.