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Mary, the Magnificat, and a prophetic Advent
It’s an unconventional birth announcement.
Defiant. Prophetic. Unsentimental.
We like to paint Mary in the softer hues—her robes clean, hair combed and covered, body poised in prayerful surrender—but this young woman was a fierce one, full of strength and fury. When she accepts the dangerous charge before her, (every birth was risky in those days, this one especially so), rather than reciting a maternal blessing, Mary offers a prophecy:
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.
With the Magnificat, Mary not only announces a birth, she announces the inauguration of a new kingdom, one that stands in stark contrast to every other kingdom—past, present, and future—that relies on violence and exploitation to achieve “greatness.” With the Magnificat, Mary declares that God has indeed chosen sides.
And it’s not with the powerful, but the humble. It’s not with the rich, but with the poor. It’s not with the occupying force, but with people on the margins. It’s not with narcissistic kings, but with an un-wed, un-believed teenage girl entrusted with the holy task of birthing, nursing, and nurturing God. This is the stunning claim of the incarnation: God has made a home among the very people the world casts aside. And in her defiant prayer, Mary—a dark-skinned woman, a refugee, a religious minority in an occupied land—names this reality.
“God is with us. And if God is with us, who can stand against us?”
We cannot claim to embrace the Holy Family while withholding justice from those who would most identify with them. We cannot talk of “making Christmas great again” while taking the side of powerful and violent over the vulnerable.
The season of Advent is meant to be a time of waiting.
And so let's wait with the angst of the prophets, with the restlessness of the psalmist who cried “How long, oh Lord, will You hide your face forever?” and with the stubborn, unsentimental hope of a woman so convinced the baby inside her would change everything, she proclaimed in present tense that the great reversal has already arrived--
The powerful have already been humbled. The vulnerable have already been lifted up. For God has made a home among the people.