Summary: "My Soul magnifies the Lord"
Here we are on the fourth Sunday of Advent. The morning of Christmas Eve. It’s hard not sliding right into Christmas. Snow, the excitement, the baby to be born, the manger, the Shepherds -- the whole nine yards. Christmas as we have come to know and love and expect. Gifts under the tree, a feast -- or two -- waiting to be enjoyed with family. We are waiting to see, or maybe have already seen it once or twice, Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol" or maybe "A Miracle on 34th Street," or "It’s a Wonderful Life" -- all the favorite Christmas movies. To sing and celebrate a rolly polly "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas." Ah! Christmas as it should be.
But hold on! It is still Advent. The waiting is still happening. Here we have Mary singing a beautiful song just as we have grown to expect. This is the beautiful song of Mary that I love to hear sung, The Magnificat. The words of Mary speaking of her hope -- our hope. Beautiful words. Singing of the world as it will be. Singing of hope that compels her to sing in the midst of personal crisis.
Listen to the words again. Here is a pregnant teenager, with the audacious story of being made pregnant by God. A pregnant young woman in a time when to be found pregnant declared her as damaged goods, open to rejection by any future husband, abandoned by her family and open target to anyone looking for someone to stone. A CBC drama this week spelled out the likely consequences: stoning, violence from anyone who chose to take a swing at her, no midwife willing to be present at the birth, all work for Joseph drying up, family turning against them both.
Yet she sings:
My Soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour
on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed.
The Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
How can she sing such words, such hope in light of what she would have been experiencing? That she will be called "Blessed" rather than "adulteress". Hope for the poor, the shepherds, the fallen. That the God would do great things for her.
Words that do not fit into our idea of Christmas. We have constructed, with the help of advertizing, a sanitized Christmas that ignores the harsh realities that Mary knew so well.
Our Christmas has the rock band " The Smashing Pumpkins" singing "when every child has a toy", when we know it is not true. Where we sing of a "white Christmas" when over half the world does not have snow at Christmas. We think of a fat Santa created by Coca - Cola in the 1920’s while the real Saint Nicholas gave money for dowry to poor girls so they could get married and escape grinding poverty. More Mary’s reality than a red can of pop. We celebrate Scrooge who almost single-handedly has created the gift-giving tradition that drives our retail economy because of the hope that even the stingiest and most hard hearted can be changed. This is not the hope of which Mary sings.
These are words of revolution, words that turn the world upside down. A person with no hope singing words that few would dare to utter. Mary sings of a hope based upon a God who enters our world in the most unlikely form, using the most unlikely people and promises to turn the world upside down. Or maybe more to the point, turns our world which we think is "right side up" up side down and replacing it with a world that is "right side up" according to God’s way of reckoning.
Unheard of, impossible, against all conventions of that day or even ours. As one woman in a reflection group said, "why would anyone offer their own body and blood to grow this child out of wedlock in the hope of saving the world?" From how many teenage pregnant girls would you believe this story?
Yet Mary sings of her hope, where the poor will be lifted up and those who oppress them will be scattered. A time when all recognize their dependance on God. And the proud, those who insist on their own self-sufficiency, will be scattered.
And so she sings:
He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm;
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
Mary sings for us. For ordinary people who do not have it always all together, people who recognize that we need hope that comes from outside of ourselves. We are a lot like Mary, the shepherds. In a line with a lot of other unworthy people: David the adulterer, Jacob the con-artist, Matthew the crooked government employee. Paul the murderer. Gossips, thieves, selfish hoarders, grumps and malcontents. You and I, just more unworthy people through whom God seeks to redeem the world by turning it upside down. How absurd is that? We are to be a part of the saving of the world, unless we insist, because of our pride, to try and do it on our own. Then, we will be sent away empty.