In year C, Advent is filled with people speaking truth to power. Last Sunday, John was a thundering prophetic preacher, fulfilling his own father’s prophecy that he would shine a light into the dark corners of the souls of the people, preparing the way in the wilderness. This Sunday, at long last, Mary gets her say. And she’s fierce.
This is not the meek and mild Mary we often see portrayed, the one who is throbbingly questioned in that pop song played in every mall in the land right now– you know the one. The song that quaveringly asks if Mary knew that her baby boy was God, the one who would heal the deaf and blind and walk on water.
If you listen to the Magnificat, you know this song is utterly unnecessary. Mary knew all these things, and stepped unafraid toward this miracle she was called to embody.
We’ve seen stories throughout scripture of women who have spent their lives longing for a child, whose prayers are answered with a son, taking away their shame in a culture where a woman’s worth was often measured by who her husband was and how many children she could bear for him. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Samson’s unnamed mother, Hannah, and Elizabeth. Their responses varied when given the news that they were going to bear a child that was a particular gift from God:
Hannah sang a song of victory.
Mary, though, hasn’t experienced a long period of childlessness—her entire life lies before her. Yet she is plucked from invisibility, is invited to embrace an unimaginable future, and responds with a battle cry of justice. Here she is, a teenaged mother, a peasant girl in a backwater of the margin of the Roman Empire, and yet she knows who she is, and that had a choice that was hers alone. Mary responds with trust and power, but never surrender. With a crown of stars swirling around her head, she responds:
Let it be for me as you have said.
As the poet Denise Levertov recounts in “Annunciation” :
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
And now this Sunday, Mary goes to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, and the power that passes between these two women and the miracles they bear inside them produces a war-cry from this young girl, the first woman to preach in the New Testament. What bursts from her but power from the powerless, hope from the whirlwind, empowerment that bursts every boundary? What does she sing out in wonder and exultation, as she places herself in the hands of Holy Spirit?
A vision of a world turned upside down, where the oppressed are thrown down, and the lowly are lifted up and exalted. A world in which the mighty arm of God sweeps away injustice and oppression, where those who serve themselves will be spilled from their empty thrones. A banquet where those those who hunger are satisfied, and those who have gorged themselves depart bearing the clinking chains of their insatiable greed. This God remains faithful and merciful to those who call upon the Holy Name, and will reclaim the lost in answer to promises whose memory still burns with power across generations and time, to deliver the oppressed from systems of injustice and the void of abandonment.
Mary the rebel, the righteous warrior with peace as her shield, sings a song of defiance, liberation, and deliverance. She lifts her hands and heart to God, and calls us to join in, too. Free to sing out with her our hopes for a world remade and repaired by justice. Free to offer our emptied spirits like a bowl to be filled with the promise of salvation, to respond in faith and courage with this anthem of expectation:
My soul overflows with the greatness of God,
My spirit sings unending praise to One Who Saves,
the One who lifts up the lowly servant who dares to be
the handmaiden of God Most High.
Surely, from now to time unending
All generations will see that I have been blessed.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She attends Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is seminarian-intern at Church of the Good Shepherd , Town and Country, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @Scoopexplainsit. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.
Image “Franz Anton Maulbertsch – Visitation (detail) – WGA14692” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.