Mary had no voice. She was silenced by her age, a child to be seen and not heard. She was silenced by her class, a peasant from nowhere Nazareth. She was silenced by her predicament, an unwed pregnant teenager. She was silenced by her gender, a girl without permission to speak in a man’s world.
In the centuries since, culture has continued to keep her quiet. A submissive mother stage left in the drama of salvation because Protestants are suspicious of her Catholic veneration, because powerful men have been threatened by God’s Immaculate Conception in a woman, because the moralists think a wedding ring should have come first.
But in the Gospel of Luke, there are no hushed tones or whispered opinions. Instead the writer not only amplifies Mary’s unapologetic and confrontational voice, but also records her most famous song called the “Magnificat,” the oldest of all Advent hymns.
In today’s text, despite the pressure to remain meek and mild, why does Mary raise her voice to sing?
Luke 1:46-55 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.”
She’s moved with awe and wonder, filled with an exuberance she has to share.
It’s only a miracle if it is shared and Mary wants the world to hear the song of her womb.
Good News is best shared in song.
Mary sings because the matriarchs before her did. Miriam sang about the Lord’s deliverance from the Egyptians at the Red Sea, Deborah sang about God’s victory over the Canaanite Army, and Judith sang about Yahweh’s winning deception against the Assyrians. She joins the long line of biblical prophetess who believed that the work and will of God is too important to merely be spoken.
Mary sings because hearing is the first sense developed in the womb. As she goes about her day pregnant with the Son of God, she is humming the Magnificat over and again, forming this child into Christ so that her song will incarnate into his mission. A messiah who grows up to overthrow the masters of domination by becoming a slave, who feeds the hungry by breaking his body.
Mary sings, most of all, because every cause that ever changed the world was ultimately mobilized, not by sword or shield, not by brawn or brain, but by music that stirred the heart into action. Harriet Tubman grabbed the microphone of emancipation with “Wade in the Water.” Aretha Franklin belted out the lyrics of women’s liberation with “Respect.” Joni Mitchell took environmental awareness to another octave with “Big Yellow Taxi.”
During the holidays, while the proud flaunt their medals of individual achievement, the powerful rule on high from their authoritarian thrones, and the rich exploit the vulnerable for their greedy gain, the response is ours: be complicit in our silence, or drown out the cries around us with the Christmas carols of sentimentality, or join Mary’s protest song.
For every activist, Advent is the season of objection, the four weeks of public demonstration when we join our voices as one with the unwed pregnant teenager from nowhere who refused to stay quiet. When we gather around the rallying cry of Mother Mary who gave birth to our Lord and Savior and the cause of Christianity.
Always remember that we are a singing people.