Today our church honors Mary, the mother of Jesus; a tradition dating back to the earliest days of the church. The gospels of Matthew and Luke offer descriptions of young Mary, details about Jesus’ birth and both attest that Mary was a virgin when she conceived the Christ child. In Luke’s account of the gospel we see Mary as a free range parent who allows Jesus the space to travel separately on their way home from the temple in Jerusalem. And when she discovers that he he doesn’t actually travel home with the group, she searches nonstop for three days before finding him sitting with the teachers in the temple. Who among us wouldn’t do the same thing?
The gospels tell us that during Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, Mary was often among the women who follow Jesus, witnessing his divine works and caring for his human needs. At his death, Mary stands at the foot of the cross, watching her son’s slow, torturous death. The gospels paint a full portrait of Mary as Jesus’ mother, and yet it’s not one of these sentimental stories appointed for her feast today. Instead, we are offered Luke 1:46-51, the Magnificat.
It is fascinating to me that on the Feast of Mary the Virgin, the lectionary invites us to read and reflect upon this revolutionary song of salvation rather than the moment Mary learns she will become a virgin mother or the moment she gives birth to Jesus. To me, the significance is that we are called to connect Mary’s call of God’s redemptive justice with her motherhood.
On the Third Sunday of Advent in 1933 German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached on the Magnificat, calling it the oldest of all Advent hymns. He noted that Mary’s song has “none of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas hymns; but (instead is) a hard, strong, uncompromising song of bringing down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of this world, of God’s power and of the powerlessness of humankind.”
Mary lives in a time when people are being crushed financially due to being triple taxed by Rome, the local government and the temple. The lowly and hungry Mary names in her song were very much a struggling population in her time. But now, with the coming of the incarnation, she knows a new social order of justice is at hand. And once she starts singing, her passion cannot be silenced.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was exactly right. The Magnificat continues to be revolutionary, especially for all people in need. Those suffering abuse, those single parents struggling to make ends meet, people without food or housing, refugees fleeing from violence…all of these persons are all encompassed in the hope Mary proclaims.
But now it is our turn.
The Magnificat is now the song for parents to sing today.
We might not be lowly second-class citizens like Mary, but we must still sing on behalf of those who are. We cannot only be concerned with our own children. Until all hungry children are fed, until all homeless children are housed, until all black and brown bodied children are treated with respect, none of us will know justice.
Today is not a day when we remember gentle Mary laboring in a barn or encouraging her son to turn water into wine. Today is not a day for sweet, sugary images of the Virgin Mother. Today is a day to to celebrate Mary as a prophet and author of one of the most radical hymns in the Bible.
The Magificat is Mary’s song, but it’s our song, too. I pray that we will be as bold and revolutionary as Mary when we sing it to the world.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Pixabay]
How will you celebrate Saint Mary the Virgin today?