St Andrew’s Anglican Church
Sunday 23 December
Micah 5: 2-5a
Song of Mary
Luke 1: 39-45
Singing the eternal song ©Sue Wilton
My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings
of the wondrous things
that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west
shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?
These are the opening verses of a musical paraphrase of the Magnificat by Rory Cooney. The Magnificat- Mary’s song of joy- appears amongst the readings for this our fourth Sunday in Advent.
Luke’s Gospel seems to me to be full of song- songs of waiting, songs of celebration, songs of joyful surprise at the new beginnings God is bringing to life. Songs that usher in the turning of the world. Mary’s song comes immediately after Elizabeth’s poetic and priestly exclamation when she greets Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” In the following chapter, songs are heard on the lips of Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, out of the mouths of the faithful who wait in holy expectation in the temple, and of course, bursting forth from an exuberant array of angels.
This song doesn’t seem to be able to be kept down. It is of course a song that had been heard before these two pregnant women had ever met. It is a song that had been sung in different ways through so many of the Psalms, and in the words of the prophets and from the mouth of Hannah after the birth of her son, who would grow to become the prophet, Samuel. They are like musical eruptions of the same song- a song which proclaims a God who is ever faithful to his promises, who is strong in mercy and rich in love- who does not recognise outward signs of power but acts subversively, filling the hungry and sending the rich away empty, lifting up the lowly and casting down those who in their greed and pride would oppress and dehumanise.
Mary’s song seems to awaken within her at her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting, as if the prophetic words spoken call forth from Mary the song that has been growing inside her. “Why has this happened to me?” asks Elizabeth in wonder and awe as they meet, “that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” The presence of Mary and the life that is hidden within her body, affects not only Elizabeth but also her unborn baby-the infant John the Baptiser- who, unable to fill his lungs and sing, can only leap for joy in the womb. “Blessed is she who believes that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord,” cries Elizabeth. And at this, Mary’s tongue is loosened, and she pours out a song – “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”
Of course the song is doing more than creating beautiful music or fine poetry. This song, this eternal song, that keeps finding voice in scripture, is not only voicing our hopes, but naming and making real the turning of the world. The song is a living word that, as it is sung, puts on flesh and goes about the work of ushering in the kingdom.
Mary’s song has a very subversive message- or perhaps we should say, it offers a corrective to a world where human worth and dignity is devalued and power used to control and oppress. With all its talk of bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly, it offers a vision of equality.
This prophetic vision has been spoken throughout human history and continues to shape our lives in our time. There are many examples of this, but I love the story theologian,
Harvey Cox tells, of a time when he was involved in the American civil rights movement and jailed after being involved in protests and civil disobedience. He found himself in prison with his fellow protestors- a few of whom were white but the majority were black teenagers. The prison warden came up to Harvey Cox and said to him, “Those coloured kids over there have been asking for Bibles. I figured it can’t do no harm, so I found them some.”
Cox thought, “Can’t do no harm? Where do you think these kids got these ideas of equality from in the first place?”
Cox goes on to say that for those teenagers, the Bible was not a text to be read literally- the question of whether it is literal or not literal didn’t even come up. For those teenagers, the scriptures were their story- continuing in and through their lives at that present moment.
Those teenagers were putting flesh on the story they were reading.
Those teenagers were allowing the song to burst forth from them- through their lives and by their prayers. They were living the song.
So how do we too, live the song? How can Mary’s song be our song?
How can little you, little me, live into that transforming vision?
Although we might be hearing the bigger political and social dimension of Mary’s song, it is also a Divine truth that the growth of the kingdom begins in the smallest of ways. Mary, with the tiny life of God just beginning inside her, surely knew that better than anyone.
The work of the kingdom begins in each little life, including our own.
By the Spirit, Christ comes to each of us, touching our deepest selves with the truth of the song. That which is proud in us cannot stand, but that in us which is lowly will be honoured and gently lifted up. Where we are hungry, Christ feeds. Where we are weary, burdened or weak, Christ tenderly offers peace, rest and loving acceptance. This is nothing less than the great story of redemption, and we are invited to take our place in it, just as Mary did. And as we make room this Advent for Christ to come to us, then we find that Mary’s song becomes our song. We find that our hope this season is based not on nice optimistic feelings, but is a robust, pregnant hope. It is the kind of hope grounded in the love that has been poured out upon us: a love that transforms us at the same time as it sets us about the work of the kingdom. We can sing Mary’s song, because, just like Mary, we are enfleshing Christ, bringing to life in our hearts, and in our world the justice, peace and mercy of God. And as Elizabeth called forth the song from Mary, so we too can enable and encourage one another to find our voice, joining the song through our lives and by our prayers.
Just like Mary, we are Christ-bearers, who know the loving presence of the living God, but who also wait in hope and joyful anticipation for the light that is coming into the world.
Rory Cooney’s adaptation of the Magnificat has a beautiful chorus that speaks of this robust hope and helps us to sing again the eternal song of Mary;
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn!