“Jingle Bell Rock” by Billy Idol, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Bruce Springsteen, “Blue Christmas” by Elvis, “The Little Drummer Boy” by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, “Grandma Got Runover by a Reindeer” by Elmo and Patsy. Beginning last Thursday, there are now 338 radio stations across the United States playing non-stop holiday music, including Asheville’s own Mix 96.5, “Today’s Best Variety.”
Left off the playlist, however, is the first and most famous Advent hymn of all time. It’s not found on your FM dial but rather heard from the lips of Jesus’ mother here in chapter one of Luke’s Gospel. It’s called the “Magnificat,” which means my soul magnifies the Lord.
Why is Mary singing?
Luke 1:39-56 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor 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.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
She’s filled with the Holy Spirit
Pregnancy is so filled with joy, a mother can’t help but break out in singing.
Like a prophet, she is singing into existence God’s kingdom come.
Because God is the great reversal, upending expectations, including trusting her.
Reacting to turmoil and trauma, to unexpected news and unplanned pregnancies, many people lose their voice. But there are a host of female vocalists who stepped onto the stage: Miriam sang that God had delivered the Israelites on dry ground. Deborah sang that the Kings of Canaan have been defeated by the shores of Megiddo. Hannah sang that the warrior’s bow had been broken and the lowly lifted up.
Why is Mary singing?
Because she’s lending her voice to the prophetic tradition of praise and protest songs. Music that originated around campfire rallies and between the rows of cotton, at the altar of political upheaval and under the tents of revival. Spirituals of liberation wailing that, “God’s gonna’ trouble the waters.”
If singing is like praying twice, then Mary is on bended knee for her solo:
You who revel in the flattery of others and the intoxication of your own voice, God blesses the meek.
You who hoard influence and hustle for position out front, God stands with the last in line.
You who gorge at the buffet of gluttony and dine at the table of indulgence, God satisfies the hungry.
You who dismiss the Galilean peasant and judge the unwed teenager, God ordains the pregnant girl without a ring.
In the Magnificat, “There is none of the sweet, wistful, or even playful tone of many of our Christmas carols,” says Bonhoeffer, “but instead a hard, strong, relentless hymn about the toppling of the thrones and the humiliation of the lords… about the power of God and the powerless of humankind.”
Unlike Guthrie’s “This Land is your Land,” Dylan’s “Master of War,” or Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Mary’s song doesn’t end after the refrain has been repeated but each word and wish, each protest and possibility is wrapped in swaddling clothes to be born anew every time we grab the microphone in Jesus’ name.