Mary, whose heart is full of things to ponder, goes to see her older relative Elizabeth in the hill country. Both are pregnant. Both are in on the secret of the Messiah. They are brimming with possibility and responsibility. They have both surrendered in a visceral, physical way to the flow of divine will.
Mary arrives. When Elizabeth hears her greeting, the baby leaps within her and the Spirit erupts. “Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth shouts. “Blessed is the fruit of your womb . . . and blessed is she who believed.”
In this meeting, which is literally pregnant with the salvation of the world, Mary responds with the famous passage known as the Magnificat or Song of Mary.
In the quiet waiting of Advent; in the dark, confined expectation of the womb; in the meeting of two humble women in a troubled part of the world, the fullness of the moment, the fullness of history, bursts forth.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
–As recorded in the first chapter of Luke
Our own annunciations
By Marlene Kropf
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
In her brilliant poem “Annunciation,” poet Denise Levertov imagines the startling encounter between Mary and the angel Gabriel. The young girl of the poem is not meekly obedient; rather, she is courageous, bravely questioning her unexpected guest. As Mary perceives the astonishing call and ministry she is being offered, she does not quail. She boldly accepts “a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time.”
If Levertov’s imagination is anywhere close to the reality of what happened, then Mary’s revolutionary song comes as no surprise. Steeped in the prophetic tradition of her Hebrew forebears, Mary rejoices in a mighty God who pulls down tyrants from their thrones and brings freedom to the downtrodden. She offers her heart’s devotion to a God whose face is turned toward the poor and hungry and away from the rich and well-fed. Because she herself is one of the lowly ones, she recognizes that God’s favour toward her is a sign of God’s never-ending commitment to bring justice in all the world.
Though many musical versions of Mary’s song are beautifully lyrical, none quite matches the passion and fervour of Rory Cooney’s inspired setting of Mary’s powerful credo to a traditional Irish tune, “Star of County Down” (under the title “My Soul Cries Out” in Voices Together, 412). The dramatic pulse of the music and vigor of the text set our feet to dancing and propel us right out of our quiet sanctuaries into a world crying for comfort and release.
A friend of mine once remarked, “Mary’s song is the only creed the church needs.” Everything we need to know about God’s love and gracious mercy is here; so is our call to join with God’s purposes of healing and hope in the world.
Advent is a season for celebrating not only the angel’s annunciation to Mary and her exuberant response to God’s invitation, but also our own annunciations. When has the Spirit touched us and awakened our hearts to God’s dreams for the world? When have we been inspired to sing and act for justice? When have we danced to the tune of God’s deliverance?
Marlene Kropf served as associate professor in Spiritual Formation and Worship for 25 years at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
By Laura Funk
When I read Mary’s words in Luke 1, I immediately hear music as well. Very specifically, a concert I attended years ago. The soaring harmonies of that night found a home in my soul. I vividly recall the experience even now.
Mary’s vision of the powerful and the weak is poetic. It is the stuff of dreams of every oppressed nation, group or person, the heart’s longing cry for justice, restoration.
I hear two themes inextricably bound together in her song. One is that of awe and wonder for God, praise and worship for who God is: her saviour. She celebrates God’s past deeds of care for her and her people and their call as a worshipping community to be a light and blessing to all nations. The second theme is the heartbeat of social justice. God is acting on behalf of those who are hungry and those dominated by foreign powers. God sees those toiling under oppression and comes to their assistance. Therefore, let tyrants beware.
Mary’s song is a reminder to me that praise and worship pairs well with social justice. If I get too lost in only praise for God, I can become complacent, thinking God will do what God wants, I have no part in the divine plan. On the other hand, if I get too deep into advocating for justice and lose sight of God, who walks ahead of me in this work, I can feel anxious or discouraged, thinking there’s no hope for the deep brokenness I see all around me. However, if I hold these two themes together, praise reminds me whose world this is, and participating in the work of justice reminds me of what it means to follow the child of peace.
May Mary’s song fill your heart with awe and wonder and challenge to work for peace and justice.
Laura Funk is a spiritual director living in Winnipeg.