“And Mary said:
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
For the Mighty One has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
From generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
But has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
But has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
Remembering to be merciful to Abraham
And his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.’”
– Luke 1:46-55
In 1977, during the time of the Dirty War in Argentina, a war that led to countless children abducted from their homes by the military, a few hundred mothers met in the dark of night. They staggered, as one, a mob, down the street, stumbling on toward the Plazo De Mayo for a vigil for their babies. They lit candles and moaned, for their stolen ones, shrieked out, for the light to come, held the fragile flickering candles in their hands and let them burn all the way down.
They sang Mary’s song, the Magnificat, loud and painfully, and the government felt at its’ throat. They plastered her words on posters on street corners and in office windows, and the despots drew back like a tiger, thrashed forward, slammed a fist, banned the song from being sung outright.
In India, under the heavy hand of British rule, they were more shrewd. Churches were numerous around the country, in all appearances thriving, and every word of the Bible could be freely spoken, written and preached about, except for one single song. The British knew its’ message, felt its heat emanating in the air from any that recited it, and they heard the drum of rebellion. They heard uprising. They criminalized it out of existence.
Dietriech Bonhoeffer once reflected:
“This song of Mary’s is the oldest Advent hymn. It is the most passionate, most vehement, one might almost say, most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. It is not the gentle, sweet, dreamy Mary that we so often see portrayed in pictures, but the passionate, powerful, proud, enthusiastic Mary, who speaks here. None of the sweet, sugary, or childish tones that we find so often in our Christmas hymns, but a hard, strong, uncompromising song of bringing down rulers from their thrones and humbling the lords of this world, of God’s power and of the powerlessness of men. These are the tones of the prophetic women of the Old Testament: Deborah, Judith, Miriam, coming alive in the mouth of Mary.”
What I love about Advent is also what I hate about it: the coming together.
I love the planning, the way the house gradually fills with lights and straw bound reindeer and a tall tree given just the right amount of tinsel and red and white. I will never be happier than I am by the fire on Christmas morning, surrounded by my family, all of us sipping mugs and excitedly shoving gifts in laps. It is time of laughter and remembering, of prayer and reciting the Christmas story, and it is on this morning that I always remember how privileged I am to have this family that comes together and loves to be together.
I kind of hate the church part. The coalescing of all the Christians around this moment. Most of the year, I can selectively choose when to join in their presence and when to withdraw, but at Christmastime, they are everywhere. They make me tired. It starts, simply enough, in a sermon where the pastor declares warmly that Christ came to give light to the world, a beautiful truth that I love to hear, until I see him sharpening it up, wielding it around into a wake up call against the culture, a vague dark mass of people out there, likely, me. From there, my mind gains steam, fueling off of every off the cuff remark, every slam on Happy Holidays. I saw Rick Warren on TV the other night and I am picking imaginary fights with him. I am trying so hard to hear the good news, but Christmas drags in Christians and my baggage is heavy and it is all way too loud.
It is a season where, at once, I can feel myself perched adoringly over the precious Christ Child, and then, abruptly, pulled away.
My brother gave a sermon the other night on the Magnificat. About how God had disappeared out of history for four hundred years, leaving off the Old Testament with Malachi and then went dark, allowing the world to descend into chaos. The Roman Empire was ruthless, crucifying entire villages of men and women and children; it was expansive, covering most of the earth in its power and culture and enforced religion. To stop them, it seemed, would take a divine legion of warriors, a giant fist slamming into the heart of Caesar… But God chose a fourteen year-old peasant girl instead. Out of anyone, he chose her.
We reflected on her song in response to Elizabeth, the places they have traveled and the powers they have shook, and at the close, when we sang in unison the Magnificat, it hit me like a breath of air. It hit me like the first time I read Jesus saying the Last Shall Be First, the Least of these are Me, Come to me, all who are weary. And things grew quieter for me. My head and my heart focused on this song of liberation, this unraveling of the Kingdom born from the most meager in the world, the most suited in spirit.
And now, I can’t stop seeing that teenage girl, young Mary, God put his hands on her shoulders after four hundred years of silence, and said, I want you to bring me back. I picture her proud and sure in her role as the first cannon of the revolution, standing defiant against an empire so large and so brutal, that it clutched the world in its’ darkness. Singing all the same.
And in this advent of uncomfortable noise, of my own heavy baggage, I am clinging to this song of a new day coming, I am staking my claim on this season. I am feeling it flowing in, entering my days, reverberating through me. I am hearing the good news in the sound of hope for least and the last.