Hark, the herald Mary’s battle cry: The ‘Magnificat’

Photo by Joshua Davis

Welcome to my weekly ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s opinions, doubts, fears, and hopes about modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
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The only way you can make the Jesus story patriarchial (especially this part of the story) is if you omit certain elements of it. And this week’s reading mysteriously disappeared (or never appeared in the first place) from a vast amount of churches out West.

The Magnificat (Luke 1:46b-55)... One of the most shocking statements in the Bible, especially taking into account its context as being spoken by a woman in first-century Near Eastern culture.

The Lectionary points to a more traditional version (NRSV), but I like to share The Message version for its colloquial Western translation…

I’m bursting with God-news;
 I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened — 
 I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
 the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
 on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
 scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
 pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
 the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
 he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
 beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Those words… were from Mary (Jesus’ mom, not the other one — I always get them confused).

Yeah, Mary… The one who, in Christmas pageants, just kinda sits there. The one who’s largely portrayed as merely the passive vessel for Jesus — an empty shell of a woman who’s only significance is in being the one God had his way with.

But this hymn demonstrates a totally different Mary than I’m used to seeing.

The Magnificat shows a strong woman with a firm opinion about the powers-that-be.

This is the hymn of a revolutionary.

The following line is profound in so many ways…

God took one good look at me, and look what happened — 
 I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!

From what I’ve gathered, back in first-century times, ‘virgin’ didn’t mean ‘sexually abstinent’ as it does now. ‘Virgin’ was used to describe a free woman — independent, autonomous, untied.

In those days — even now, unfortunately — being an unwed mother was both socially and personally horrifying. Life-threatening, even. But here she is, hanging out with her cousin Elizabeth, shouting her fight song.

Again…

God took one good look at me, and look what happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!

Mary is pregnant and not yet married and she has the mystical epiphany that this is not a blasphemous act, but a sacred appointment — a divine blessing that will change the world in line with prophecy.

Can you see this Mary?! This is not a passive, mousey, apathetic young lady. This is a poor unwed woman with the odds stacked against her who’s both pissed off and aflame with joy at the same time (a true contemplative, nondual stance).

The world she lives in — ruled by the patriarchal power structures of empire — is not friendly to someone in her situation. And in this hymn, she shakes her fist and curses them as she proclaims what God has in store for them.

He bared his arm and showed his strength,
 scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
 pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
 the callous rich were left out in the cold.

Think she might have had a greater influence on Jesus than just being a passive birth-giver?

This is how the birth of Jesus begins... Not in a quiet manger with robed men all around. But in the presence of two strong women and the passionate words of a revolutionary mother who’s in a serious bind, but who knows her God. A woman who’s driven by the burning love in her heart as she steadies herself for this newborn king.

[Please read this article for a deeper background on the Magnificat — it’s sooooo good.]


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