A Visit and a Song (Part 03/04)

The gift of hope: Once Mary receives both community and blessing, she finds her prophetic voice. At the end of our Gospel reading, she bursts into song. Not just any song, but a radical, hope-drenched song that soars with promise for the world’s poor, brokenhearted, and oppressed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the Magnificat this way: “It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings…. This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”

“My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary sings, and then her song goes on to do just that. To make more visible and clear — to magnify for the world — a God invested in revolutionary and lasting change for his creation. Mary describes a reality in which our sinful and unjust status quo is gorgeously reversed: the proud are scattered and the humble honored. The hungry are fed and the rich sent away. The powerful are brought down, and the lowly are lifted up. Mary describes a world reordered and renewed — a world so beautifully characterized by love and justice, only the Christ she carries in her womb can birth it into being.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, Mary’s song is so subversive in its cultural, socioeconomic and political implications, it has been banned many times in modern history. When the British ruled India, the Magnificat was prohibited from being sung in churches. Similarly, during the “Dirty War” in Argentina, after the mothers of disappeared children postered the capital plaza with the words of the Magnificat, the military junta banned all public displays of the song. Too much hope, they decided, is a dangerous thing.

But “too much hope” is precisely what we’re called to cultivate and proclaim on this fourth and final Sunday in Advent. The Messiah is almost here, Mary tells us, and the promise of his lasting reign changes everything. There is no unjust system, oppressive hierarchy, or arrogant leadership structure that God will not upend. No promise God will fail to keep. No broken, exploited life God will not save. So find your voice and sing your song — and share it with the world. What does your Magnificat sound like? How is God magnified through your unique perspective and vision? What words have you found to express the radical, revolutionary hope of the Messiah you carry?

I want to close this essay with a poem by Jan Richardson, about the Visitation. As we come to the end of this Advent season, may her words encourage you to receive and share the gifts of community, blessing, and hope. The Messiah is coming! So make haste. Be blessed. And magnify the Lord.

to be continued…

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