“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.”
I remember preaching on Mary, shortly after returning from maternity leave. And was blown away by what I’d never realized. God chose childbirth. I think that speaks volumes about just what kind of God we worship. God could have been hatched. God could have poofed. God could have come down in the clouds full of sparkly perfection. But God chooses a process and a pain that requires a woman to be fully invested in what is happening to her body. A messy and complicated, yet natural and beautiful – God chooses childbirth. God fully invests in humanity. God chooses the ultimate example of already but not yet – the example of hope and promise lifted up again and again in scripture, though not without labor and not without pain. Joy of expectation though not without the difficult wait. God chooses Mary. Mary somehow agrees to this plan.
This Mary, who we have heard is meek and mild, and has the strength within her to assent to carry a baby conceived by the Holy Spirit, and also the strength to apparently ride a donkey while extremely pregnant and possibly in labor. This Mary who never has any lines in the Christmas pageant, and is pictured sitting, quietly – actually delivers the longest speech of a woman in the New Testament. This Mary who is virginal, pure, and has been turned into all the things we now think of in our Victorian Puritanical ideas of virginity, and yet has a lot to say when it comes to the violent overthrow of the systems of this world.
This Mary who is young and inexperienced and poor, and has been turned into all the things that we think of when it comes to powerless young women. We overlook the agency she has in the story – and the powerful women she will look to for role models in the story of the Hebrew people. Her song is “soaked in Jewish women’s history, echoing the words and stories of Miriam, Hannah, Judith, and Deborah.”The women who did powerful things and said powerful things about God’s faithfulness.
And Mary’s words are prophetic, too. Her words are like those of the prophets of old which describe things God has done and things God will do in the same breath. One of my favorite preachers Barbara Brown Taylor says that “Prophets almost never get their verb tenses straight, because part of their gift is being able to see the world as God sees it – not divided into things that are already over and things that have not happened yet, but as an eternally unfolding mystery that surprises everyone”
Even with her clear identification as a BOTH prophet and the mother of our Lord – Protestant Churches have long accused Roman Catholics and even orthodox catholics of worshipping Mary. We misunderstand devotion, adoration, and honor, and respect, and confuse honoring the mother of God, with worship of God. Hence, Protestants have gone to great lengths to remove anything that smacks of giving this woman her place in the story, and the honor and attention she should receive. Not Luther though! Martin Luther preached his 1531 Christmas sermon naming Mary as the “highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ . . . She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.” When we honor Mary – when we look to her example, we see she points to Christ.
Based on all I read, I can no longer call Mary, meek or mild. Her courage is not meek and her words are not mild. She responds with faith to a great challenge, but thinks back to her ancestors in the faith and the challenges they met with God’s call and God’s help. Mary is a fierce mother, in the ways that all mothers are fierce for their children. And she is a fierce believer. She ponders the words spoken to her, and reflects on their meaning, knowing that God’s word is spoken for her – to her.
But she gives glory to God, and not herself. So much so that even her own soul – her own personhood – her own experience and faithful response make our view of God bigger. Her song begins – my soul magnifies the Lord…. Our view of God – the way we see God was about to get a whole lot bigger when she carried Jesus 9 months into this world. Our view of God was going to get magnified exponentially when she birthed him into the
world – and the Lord, the God of Miriam, Hannah, Judith, and Deborah was showing up in a whole new big way, in solidarity with all unwed teenage moms, with all humanity, with all those who speak out for the marginalized, the poor, and the hungry. It was like a magnifying glass put close to God – not changing anything about who God has EVER been – but allowing humanity to now see up close and personal, the person of God, birthed of woman, raised by a woman, cared for by women, revealed to the world by women.
Allowing us to know God in a new way. When my daughter was born, she was vocal with eyes wide open. While my husband was meeting her for the first time, my first thought was, I know you!! I’ve known you! Mary gives us a unique and intimate perspective, knowing Jesus, knowing God in a way that none ever have. And she points to Christ, reminding us that God knows us, fights for us, cares for us, and is faithful to his promises. Amen.