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Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2012

A musical friend of mine remarked to me recently that she could not imagine what it was like to go through life without singing. I agree with her. To make one’s way through life without lifting one’s voice in song, or at least in a joyful noise, seems to me to be a tragic thing. Thankfully most people do sing, even if it is only a little. My atonal ex-husband had about two songs on the radio he would sing with. Many people sing in the shower if no place else.

Singing is a way to express emotions when words are inadequate. People sing to express their joy, from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” to Maria in West Side Story’s “I Feel Pretty” to Julie Andrews running up a mountain to sing, “The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music”. We sing to express our grief, as people have been doing this week as the victims in Newtown, Connecticut, were memorialized. We sing to express our nationalism. Every year thousands gather on the Mall for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July to listen to and sing patriotic songs. We sing love songs. We sing songs for war and songs for peace. We sing songs of hope, such as “We Shall Overcome”. There have been songs written for every conceivable emotion. The “Magnificat”, is the show-stopping song in the story of Mary. It is a song of victory and triumph, of faith and revolution. It is called the “song of Mary” even if it was said, but the entire story of Mary is really a song – a musical testament to faith in God’s wonderful works.

Mary’s song is a song of surprise. Mary was a peasant girl, a nobody in a nowhere town. She was a young teenager who had nothing special to recommend her that we know of. Yet an angel appears to her while she is going about her everyday life. He greets her and calls her favored one. He tells her the Lord is with her. We can assume that Mary is your average Jewish girl. She knows the stories of her faith enough that she believes there is an angel there when she sees one. Yet she does not cower in fear. She is instead perplexed, uncertain about this greeting. Why should an angel come to her? And what did it mean for her life?

Mary’s song is a song of blessing. First the angel blesses her. Gabriel tells her that she has found favor with God and she will conceive and bear a son, according to God’s plan. Not only will she have a baby, but he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High and God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. Again Mary is surprised. She is going to bear the Messiah, the one her people have been waiting for all these years. Why me, she must have asked herself. The angel blesses Mary with an intimate relationship with God, the most intimate one could have. The Holy Spirit will not only fill her, but will create the child in her womb because for God nothing is impossible.

Mary is blessed by Gabriel, then she goes to visit Elizabeth, who blesses her too. She is blest among women because she is bearing Jesus, and she is blessed because she believed God would fulfill God’s promise to her. Elizabeth has been blessed with a miraculous pregnancy too, but she acknowledges that her child will serve as messenger for the Coming One. In his first prophecy, the fetus that would become John the Baptist leapt in her womb. After she is blessed by Gabriel and Elizabeth, Mary’s “Magnificat” blesses God for God’s power and goodness toward her and toward all her people. God is working God’s purposes out through Mary and Elizabeth, and Mary is so happy to be part of salvation history that she sings in joy and celebration.

The song of Mary is a song of faith. It is not a song of instant obedience or submissive acceptance. It is a song of a young woman who considers what the angel is telling her about what will happen. She knows the risks of childbirth, and she knows the risks of being pregnant without having slept with Joseph. At the very least she would be divorced and a single mother. At the very worst, she could be stoned to death. Mary wonders what life will be like with a baby, just as anyone about to be pregnant would do. It is only then that she comes to her decision, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” The central part of this song is Mary’s faith, for without it, nothing would have happened.

Mary’s song is one of hope and confidence. She comes to see Elizabeth, perhaps hoping to confirm Gabriel’s words, perhaps hoping to make a connection with someone else whose pregnancy is miraculous. They would talk about being pregnant together and of the roles their sons would play in God’s plan for God’s people Israel. They would share their hopes and their fears and rejoice together. In the “Magnificat”, Mary is so confident in her hope that God will keep God’s promises that she sings the song in the past tense, as if what God has promised has already been accomplished. She is so certain that God will do as God has said that it is as if the years have flown by and the reign of God is present on earth.

Mary’s song is a song of revolution. Not only has God blessed her, but through her and her child, God has blessed all the lowly. God has turned the social and economic order upside-down. God has lifted up the lowly and brought the powerful down from their thrones. God has used God’s strength to scatter the proud, those who rely on themselves for achieving their own salvation. The hungry are the ones that are fed, and the rich are sent away empty. Those who are hungry know their need of God because they cannot get what is necessary for survival by themselves. They are open to and longing for God’s love and mercy. The rich cannot receive God. They can fill themselves with food and other riches, and they do not know they have a God-shaped hole within them. We have seen some evidence of God’s reversals – the civil rights movement, the death of apartheid in South Africa, women receiving the right to vote in the United States, the end of the U.S.S.R.

Mary has been blessed by God, not just for herself, but for the whole world. She is a crucial player in salvation history, in God’s victory over the world’s power structures and over death itself.

Mary is an example for all of us this Advent season. She is willing to open her womb and her heart to let God do a new thing in her, and she is willing to wait for the nine months it takes for the birth to be accomplished. We, too, are called like Mary to be part of God’s salvation history. We are called to open our hearts to receive what God is telling us and to be obedient to God’s purposes. We are not called to do this blindly, but to be in dialogue with God as we discern God’s call in the power of the Spirit. We are called, also, to wait for God’s will to be accomplished in us. An essay by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says we must always be ready to allow God’s hand to lead us and to “accept the anxiety of feeling ourselves in suspense and incomplete.” Like Mary we are to have faith, both in God’s power and God’s goodness (Robert Redman). The God who can revolutionize society is powerful, but God’s grace to us and to all of God’s people shows God’s goodness. We are favored by the Lord, as Mary was, and given the grace to do extraordinary things if we respond to God’s offers.

Lastly, we are called to celebrate, to dance, to sing for joy at the wonders God has brought about in our lives, in the lives of our community and in the world. There is enough to lament in this world where people go hungry every day and violence can lead to the deaths of 27 people, 20 of them little children. We lament with them, of course, as God does, but as an Easter people we are called ultimately to share in Mary’s joy that God has overcome the world. As you run around making final preparations for Christmas, remember Mary’s faith and hope in things yet to come and know that God acts with you and through you to carry out salvation history, not only as you celebrate the Incarnation, but your whole life long.


   - Rev. Ann Barker