The Love We Are Made For
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
December 5, 2017
Luke 1:39-55 (p. 831 in the pew Bibles)
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[e] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
46 And Mary[f] said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
Our text for this morning includes this beautiful song, or what I consider more of a “spoken word” thrown down (as they say) by Mary as she declares a subversive and revolutionary message.
I think too often we “nice-it-over” and soften the edges of this rather gritty message from Mary. Over the years we have put Mary’s words to classical music or a specific tune and kind of taken the bite away from the message.
Rev. Carolyn Sharp put it so well when she said,
“Don’t envision Mary as the radiant woman peacefully composing the Magnificat.” Instead see her as “a girl who sings defiantly to her God through her tears, fists clenched against an unknown future… Mary’s courageous song of praise [becomes] a radical resource for those seeking to honor the holy amid the suffering and conflicts of real life.”
Over the years, I have come to hear Mary’s Magnificat not in classical tunes or peaceful soft voices, but rather in the voice and soul of my black sisters of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the inner city of Chicago where I used to teach the Bible.
In my mind, I envision Mary as a young black woman declaring justice, freedom, and hope for her world, instead of the pale white Mary wrapped in baby blue quietly singing in the corner that we are used to seeing depicted on Christmas cards. I see a strong woman with arms flaring, fists raised, wild bodily movements, beads of sweat forming on her brow, and a strong voice throwing down those magnificent words from Luke 1:46-55.
The main reason I hear Mary in this way, is because these words are rather loaded words from Mary. Actually, these words have had a rather big impact on the church and even our modern world. Did you know that:
● Mary’s Song (The Magnificat) has been part of the Church’s liturgy or program since its earliest days of Christianity. [It was that important.]
● For centuries, members of religious orders have recited or sung these words on a daily basis. Along with the Song of Creation, The Song of Praise, The Song of Zechariah, the Song of Simeon, the Glory in Excelsis, and the Te Deum – the Magnificat is the only song used by the universal church which was written by a women.
● It is the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament.
● It is also the first Christmas carol ever composed.
● Parts of Mary’s Magnificat echo the song of Hannah (found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10) and are also reminiscent of the anguish of the prophets of the Old Testament.
● And get this - are you listening...In the past century, there were at least three separate instances of governments banning the public recitation of the Magnificat. Its message, they feared, was too subversive.
1. During the British rule of India, the Magnificat was prohibited from being sung in church.
2. In the 1980s, Guatemala’s government discovered Mary’s words about God’s preferential love for the poor to be too dangerous and revolutionary. The song had been creating quite the stirring amongst Guatemala’s impoverished masses. Mary’s words were inspiring the Guatemalan poor to believe that change was indeed possible. Thus their government banned any public recitation of Mary’s words.
3. Similarly, after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo—whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War—placed the Magnificat’s words on posters throughout the capital plaza, the military junta of Argentina outlawed any public display of Mary’s song.
Even the German theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer recognized the revolutionary nature of Mary’s song. Before being executed by the Nazis, Bonheoffer spoke the following words in a sermon during Advent 1933:
“The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”
From “The Subversive Magnificat: What Mary Expected
The Messiah To Be Like” on the Website EnemyLove.com
Now, it is important for us to understand the context of Mary’s song. We heard in our scripture reading that Mary was visiting her relative Elizabeth. Yet the reality was she was escaping the ridicule and possible retribution of her neighbors, family, and community for being an unwed pregnant teenage girl.
Scripture even tells us that the situation was grim enough that Joseph had planned to call the wedding off quietly. He did not want Mary humiliated or become a social outcast.
And to take the story up a serious notch, the reality was that according to Jewish Law Mary could have actually been stoned for adultery.
Mary is humbled by the realization that the God of the Universe is up to something and that she has been chosen to be his vessel. She senses things changing, literally being turned upside down. Her difficult life of growing up as a vulnerable woman, economically poor, and living in an oppressive world under Herod and the Roman Empire was being turned around.
I believe her Magnificat was a cry of freedom and hope for a new world. This was the cry of…
● Mary who grew up economically poor.
● Mary who was a teenage bride-to-be that was pregnant making her a social outcast.
● Mary who gave birth to Jesus in a homeless situation.
● Mary who fled with her family as refugees to a strange land because a religious and military power were threatening them.
And this is about a God who knows her condition. Who wants to meet her in her humanity. Who wants her to identity with Him.
And the same is true for us. God wants us to listen to Mary’s Song – and proclaim it today.
As Reverend Anne Emry wrote in on her blog, Sacred Story,
“Mary’s song rings in our ears, and calls us to disrupt the hold violence has on our world. She sings of a future where all children are safe from violence. She sings of a future where people have homes and food and jobs. Her words are in solidarity with us. She sees to the far horizon and sings of the coming reign of God. We will be fed, and we will feed others. We will be blessed and we will bless others. We will receive justice, and we will do justice to others. All things are possible with God.”
Mary’s Song is timely for us in our day and age – as much as it was in her day. The beauty of Mary’s Magnificat is that it is our song as well. Her passion and words, should flow from us as a hopeful message to our world, today. The queries I continue to ponder are…
Are we bold enough to proclaim Mary’s Song today?
…in our political climate?
…with the troubles in our world with race, gender, and economic inequalities?
…with a religious fervor that is focused on being right and creating “us vs. them” mentalities?
If so, it is going to have to be done in Love.
This week as I was researching the text, I came across a modern rendition of the Magnificat by Joy Cowley. I would like to close our time with sharing this version (it is actually part of the art on the front of our bulletins this morning). There is one line in it that I believe sums up Mary’s intent and ours… Joy Cowley writes...
"It’s the Love that we are made for…"
Mary knew this truth and so must we as we proclaim this important message again to our world. It’s being the Love of God to our world that we are made for this Season of Awakening. Listen to this beautiful modernized version of the Magnificat.
Modern Magnificat by Joy Cowley
My soul sings in gratitude.
I’m dancing in the mystery of God.
The light of the Holy One is within me
and I am blessed, so truly blessed.
This goes deeper than human thinking.
I am filled with awe
at Love whose only condition
is to be received.
The gift is not for the proud,
for they have no room for it.
The strong and self-sufficient ones
don’t have this awareness.
But those who know their emptiness
can rejoice in Love’s fullness.
It’s the Love that we are made for,
the reason for our being.
It fills our inmost heart space
and brings to birth in us, the Holy One.
Ask yourself, this morning:
How will I share the important message of Mary’s Song this Advent?
Who needs to hear it, today?