Text: Luke 1: 46-55
Once in a while we are blessed to hear someone sing a song or give a speech or share a poem or painting, which can make us feel as if we have wings to fly. Such was the effect of Martin Luther King Jr.s sermons and speeches upon me when I was a boy. One Christmas my dad gave me a record album which had several of Dr. King’s church sermons on it.
I was around 12 years old. I played that LP over and over until one day I realized that Dr. King’s inspiring words, his passionate commitment to justice and peace in our nation, had made a home in my heart.
Indeed, sometimes words can be filled with such truth, honesty, power and hope that hearing them can be like hearing a song. A song of liberation.
A song we carry with us during the journey of our lives.
This past Wednesday, Claudia Sheinbaum made history—she became the first woman and the first person of the Jewish faith, to be elected Mayor of Mexico City. For millions of people in and around Mexico City who have been harassed by the riot police, who have lived in the hopelessness of poverty in the city’s slums, or who are homeless due to the 2017 earthquake, who have watched corrupt businessmen ignore laws in their pursuit of riches—her words this past week were like music to their ears.
Upon Ms. Sheinbaum’s election she immediately announced that she would disband the so-called “riot police.” Said Mayor-elect Sheinbaum: “The [regular] police are there to protect the people…we don’t need a special police force, to repress them…” She pledged to build cable cars to impoverished slums and improve bus and subway service. She said she would focus on reducing crime and enforcing zoning laws… She also said replacement housing would be built for people who lost their homes in the 2017 earthquake in this city which has a population of 9 million.
Mayor-elect Sheinbaum, who has a doctorate in environmental engineering…is a former member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize as a member of that panel. Millions of people in Mexico City, a majority of them Roman Catholic, are celebrating the courage of this determined Jewish woman to confront greed, corruption and poverty. Her words sound to them like “a song of liberation.”
2000 years before Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum sang her song of liberation in Mexico City—
A young courageous Jewish woman named Mary, from the city of Nazareth, shared words which touched the hearts and lifted the hopes of people in her day who had endured suffering and oppression. The church has come to call her song: “The Magnificat” which is Latin for “to magnify” and in this context means: to glorify, to honor, to praise, to celebrate.
In the Latin translation of the gospel of Luke, Magnificat is the first word in the phrase in which Mary expresses praise to God: “Magnificat anima mea Dominum=literally, ”My soul does magnify the Lord.”
Friends, this young Jewish woman was not elected to be the Mayor of a great city like Claudia Sheinbaum or the Head of State of a country like Margaret Thatcher of England or a Chancellor, like Angela Merkel of Germany. No, young Mary of Nazareth was elected by God to be the mother of Jesus, the son of God. And we can presume that God knew exactly what God was doing when he told the angel Gabriel to go to the city of Nazareth in Galilee and share with a young Jewish woman named Mary her unique destiny. We can safely presume that God knew how political Mary would later get when she was told that she would be the mother of God—and was greeted so warmly and respectfully by her cousin Elizabeth.
I smile when people tell me that the church should stay out of politics—for not only are Mary’s words in Luke overtly political so was the life of her son, Jesus, who was nailed to a cross—killed—the victim of a conspiracy, because he confronted greed and corruption at the highest levels of religion and society.
A question for this Advent morning?
Who was this Mary? Who was this young woman who raised a child, Jesus, who would grow up and have the courage to speak truth to power—even if it could cost him his life?
One of our most revered theologians and preachers in the United States in the 20th century,
Robert McAfee Brown, with his words paints this picture of Mary, says Dr. Brown:
“Mary is a lower-class [hard] working girl in Nazareth, engaged to a local carpenter. [One day] she has a troubling vision in the midst of the morning [chores]: An angel appears, understandably frightening her out of her wits, since angels, in the biblical tradition, are messengers of God, and what [she thinks to herself] is a messenger of God doing with the likes of her?
“Even more troubling than the angel’s presence…is the angel’s message: Mary is going to have a baby…[It’s a problem because Mary is betrothed, engaged, and not married. Mary accepts the word of the angel that in her womb the Messianic hope will come to fruition in just nine months’ time. [And amazingly] her son, son of a nobody, will be the “Son of the Most High,” of whose “kingdom there will be no end.”
Dr. Brown continues: “Mary, still in a dazzled state, [due to her encounter with the Angel Gabriel] goes up into the hill country to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, herself six months into a totally unexpected pregnancy. It is during the visit that Mary sing her song. [She]…begins with praise: her soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. Why? Because in her, God has turned things upside down.
“Another kind of God [say the Romans or the Babylonians], if about to send a Son into the world, would surely have chosen a mother from royalty, or at least from the ranks of the upper class. But not this God to whom Mary is singing; no, this God has [to use Mary’s own words] ‘stooped to regard the low estate of God’s handmaiden [i.e. slave]. This God pays special attention to the poor, the oppressed, the enslaved. [Always has…remember the Exodus of Egypt]
“You are looking for a Savior? [Luke’s gospel says] Don’t look to the royal courts, look among the slaves. Don’t look to the capital city, Jerusalem, look to the boondocks, Nazareth. [Luke makes it crystal clear that] God is not beholden to human estimates of worth. It is a peasant girl, one of no account, whom God raises up, so that henceforth all generations will call her blessed.
“Mary can hardly believe it: [She proclaims in the presence of Elizabeth] ‘God who is mighty has done great things for me.’ [It’s rather amazing, God has chosen] Mary What’s-her’ name from the wrong side of the tracks, the one with no education, no coming-out party,
no executive position in a corporate multinational corporation, the one who is the object of a lot of sly talk and gossip [I here she’s pregnant]—[Yes, despite all that, God chooses Mary to be the mother of His Son.]
“If this is the way God operates, all bets are off. Our assessments of who is important [and of what power is and who has it] must be put on hold.” Friends, Mary’s song contains lyrics that were truly shocking to the ears of those who heard them in her day—and, let’s be real, many whose lives are maintained by greed and corruption—the mighty, the proud and the rich of our day-- would not appreciate or celebrate them either—for Mary said:
“God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
“God has put down the mighty from their thrones.”
“God has exalted those of low degree.
“God has filled the hungry with good things.”
“And the rich God has sent empty away.”
All this has occurred even before Jesus’ birth—and its truth continues today among people of faith.
Imagine young Mary sharing her song on the evening news today—including that the hungry are fed and the rich are sent empty away—the response by some to this message would be:
That’s socialist propaganda! That’s liberal hogwash! Lock her up! Lock her up! To which they would be told, “Excuse me folks, those are actually the words of Mary, the peasant girl, the mother of God.”
Friends, returning to Dr. Brown, he says, “Mary’s song is a call to revolutionary action.”
And I agree, for I believe when Mary’s song resonates long enough in a person’s heart and mind—revolutionary things occur—people no longer speak of trying to wall out the poor—they speak of building bridges to them.
When Mary’s song gets ahold of you, You can’t ignore the hungry or pretend they don’t exist or judge them or blame them for being hungry in the first place-- You will pray for and do what you can to reach out to them—you might even drive to their house and hand them a bag of food, like Elder Don Jeung does, every week as a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. In that act of kindness and compassion, Don is singing Mary’s song. And he’s singing in perfect key.
Want to know why you put a few dollars in the Deacon’s envelope each month? I believe it’s because after all these years, deep down, Mary’s song has gotten ahold of you. When Mary’s song gets ahold of you, you realize the people from the community that come to get a sack lunch and a Von’s card each month are more like you than they are different from you.
When Mary’s song makes a home in your heart you realize that even though you too might come from the wrong side of the tracks due to other’s views of your race, your class, your gender, or your sexual orientation--you realize you are indeed not a nobody, or unimportant, or irrelevant, or powerless.
No, Mary’s song helps you remember that you are somebody, you are special, you are important, you are confident yet humble—powerful, yet just, for you are a child of God with good news to tell, with love to share, with healing to offer—you are a revolutionary--one with the power to help uplift and change lives—one with a song of liberation in your heart.
If we share God’s love with those we meet in the journey of life—beginning with our family and friends—they too will discover, as Mary did, a song of liberation rising up in them as well. A song which helps them realize they are a somebody who matters, who counts, who is loved by God.
In light of that good news, I close with the following true story which I read in the November 21st issue of Christian Century magazine. A story which speaks of Advent hope—and the power of God to change and bless lives as God blessed Jesus’ mother Mary’s life.
In this story a young girl named Charlotte find and shares her song of liberation. And nothing is ever the same in her life, or her mother’s life, again.
The Rev. Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is a Lutheran pastor…in Cole Camp, Missouri. She is also Charlotte’s mother. She and her husband are co-pastors of the church and take turns leading worship on Sunday mornings. Listen as Pastor Kimberly reflects back on being seated in the pews with her young daughter one Sunday morning while her husband leads worship—she writes: “It’s your usual during-church craziness: my three year old daughter drawing and making train sounds with her Thomas toy, [and] the baby crawling up and down the pews, both children stealing toys from each other, and all the while I’m making feeble attempts to worship.
“On top of that, as my husband led worship, our daughter was saying over and over again, “Up,” “Daddy,” and “Peace. Her speech is delayed, and many weeks she’ll have a new word after weeks of repeating sounds and phrases…Her speech delay also means she has no volume control.”
Says Kimberly, Often I’m anxious and self-conscious about the attempts she makes to talk. I worry about the disruption we cause in church, thinking that the pastor’s child—of all children—should be able to sit quietly in church. On this particular Sunday, as Charlotte repeated her words and sounds, the church member sitting in front of us turned around and said: ‘I love hearing Charlotte say new words…’
Pastor Kimberly continues: “In many ways my daughter looks and acts like a typical preschooler. She loves playing at the park, she cheers in delight watching tractors and trains pass, she reads books, she melts down, she loves her baby brother, and she has strong opinions about which clothes she’ll wear to church. In church she bounces up and down with the music…puts her dollar in the offering plate, and snacks on cookies and donuts.
“Yet one thing sets her apart from other children her age: something known as childhood apraxia of speech. Her brain has difficulty connecting with her mouth. She knows what she wants to say, but getting the words and sounds out is difficult. Thanks to speech therapy, she’s learning how to shape her mouth to form sounds, she’s strengthening her tongue muscles, and she’s finally speaking words. One sound at a time. It takes weeks of work and repeating for Charlotte to speak a new word clearly and easily…My daughter has a shortage of words but she doesn’t have a shortage of love, excitement, and joy which she freely shares with others. With very few words, the joy she exudes is palpable…”
Pastor Kimberly continues: “At a gathering I lead for the youngest in our congregation, one time we were singing ‘Jesus Loves Me.’My daughter can’t sing the words, but she smiles and sways a bit to the singing.And then she realizes what song it is that we’re singing. She gets excited and runs to the books I’ve brought [to church] from home, the ones we read at night.
[My three year old] searches for the book she’s looking for as the rest of us continue singing.
[After a few minutes she’s back]-- Beaming with pride, she brings the book to me and shows everyone. It’s Jesus Loves Me.
Pastor Kimberly Knowle-Zeller concludes: “My daughter couldn’t sing but she could participate. She could listen. She could dance. She could smile. She could show her understanding by bringing the book to us and opening its pages to the words that declare Jesus’ love for her. She could trust the truth of the song: that she is a beloved child of God.”
Friends, 2000 years ago, a young woman, with the innocence of Charlotte, found her song.
A song whose message contains a truth that remains efficacious and vital—and that is, we are beloved children of God. May Mary’s song ultimately become a song of liberation, rising in us, enabling us to boldly declare, no matter the challenges and sorrows we face in our lives: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.