“My Soul Magnifies the Lord!”
Luke 1:46-55 (1:46) – December 24, 2017
People have been writing songs about the Virgin Mary for centuries. Songs of praise, songs of worship, songs honoring God, and lifting up Mary for saying “yes” to God. Christmas carols might be the first thing that come to mind—but I am also thinking of music from centuries past. From the familiar first part of Handel’s Messiah, to the various settings of the Magnificat, with lyrics from the first chapter of Luke—our Gospel reading for this morning.
Some Protestants might not be as familiar with the Virgin Mary as many Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Mary is held in extremely high esteem in many denominations and faith traditions throughout the world, and for excellent reasons. I honor her greatly.
Did you know that Mary—an unwed teenager from an oppressed people-group in an occupied country under crushing Roman rule—was also a radical? A subversive? Was plotting to overthrow the existing oppressive government and replace it with the rule of God?
What surprising, even shocking things to say about the sweet, innocent Virgin Mary! Everyone associates her with travel to Bethlehem while nine months pregnant, and needing to deliver the infant Jesus in a stable, because there was no room for them in the inn.
That Mary? Radical? Subversive? Yes.
Let’s back up. Go back to last week’s sermon, where the angel Gabriel surprises Mary and tells her God would like for her to be the mother of the Messiah.
But, what about Mary’s opinion? For a teenager, Mary must have been mature and sensible. She acknowledges the angel’s statement and God’s will. Mary says “Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.”
Sure, the wonderful classical settings of the Magnificat were often sung in a foreign language, like Latin. Or, in text from the King James version of the Bible, full of “thee’s” and “thou’s” and all manner of archaic words. Listen to the first part of her Magnificat, as translated in the modern version by Eugene Peterson, “The Message.”
“I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened—I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before Him.”
One well-known depiction of the Virgin Mary is one that is meek, docile, sweet, and not raising a fuss at all. But, wait a moment. Do we realize what Mary is going to sing next? How revolutionary were many of the statements in her song?
“Even more importantly, Mary’s song is an overture to the Gospel of Luke as a whole. Mary’s lyrics set the tone for Jesus’s radical and controversial ministry that is to come:
You have shown strength with your arm;
You have scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
You have brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
You have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
“In contrast, the Christmas season leaves too many still hungry, and too many even further in debt.” 
Do you hear what radical things Mary is saying? If these lyrics of her song were more well-known, would our understanding of Mary be changed? Here Mary is advocating social change, rescuing victims—neglected women, forgotten elders and children, abused strangers and refugees—from being trodden underfoot, even ground under the heel of bragging, bluffing tyrants and braggarts. Turning all society as it was in her day—and ours—upside down.
What subversive idea is our revolutionary Mary advocating now? Feeding the starving? Giving the poor a banquet? Turning the unfeeling, callous rich people out into the cold? Yes, these radical words are the words found in Luke chapter 1, before we rush on to the narrative of the birth of the Baby in Bethlehem from Luke 2.
Mary was singing two thousand years ago. But, things haven’t changed much. Political leaders are still calling one another names while people starve. “Refugees struggle to find a home in a world with increasingly closed doors. The poor sleep under bridges while the rich build homes with rooms they will never need. And Abraham’s descendants—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—continue to fight over the lands where God’s messengers first spoke to all humanity.”
As the Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg stated in his article on the radical nature of Mary’s Magnificat, “The Christmas story has, over time, too frequently come to have a sense of ‘preciousness,’ of saccharine sentimentality, of almost sickening sweetness as if you had eaten all the candy in your stocking all at once on Christmas morning. When this super-sweetening of the story happens, we can miss the radicality of the claim that God is found, not as the royal child of a queen in a palace, but as the son of an unwed teenager, born in a stable in a religiously-conservative small town.” 
Sure, we can see this saccharine sweetness of Luke chapter 2, once it is pointed out to us. But, in reality, life was not so pretty for teenaged Mary, pregnant without the benefit of marriage.
We are still in the season of Advent, the season of waiting. Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. We still watch as Joseph and his greatly pregnant wife Mary walk one hundred miles to the town of Joseph’s ancestors (and Mary’s, too).
We still wait for the baby Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. We still hold our collective breath with all the rest of creation as we wait—and wait.
Luke, the writer of our Gospel, has a different take on things. Yes, he waits, too. But he waits with songs. Mary’s song—Mary’s Magnificat is a great example.
As Dr. David Lose says in his commentary, “Have you ever noticed how often Luke employs songs in the first several chapters of his story about Jesus? Mary sings when she is greeted by her cousin Elizabeth. Zechariah sings when his son John is born and his tongue is finally loosened. The angels sing of peace and goodwill when they share their “good news of great joy” with the shepherds. And Simeon sings his song of farewell once he has seen God’s promises to Israel kept in the Christ child.” 
These songs are deep expressions of the heart and soul to God and to the listeners—including us. These songs are hymns, psalms, songs of praise and exaltation, and even songs of resistance. Mary combined all of these into her song.
I’d like to close with a portion of a modern song written to Mary, asking her if she knew her infant son would truly be the Messiah, the Son of God. This song was written by Mark Lowry, and asks: “Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am!
Mary, did you know? Mary, did you know?” 
We are still waiting…
“Magnificat! Learning to Sing Mary’s Song,” Carl Gregg, Patheos, 2011.
 From An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide, Week Four. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry.
“Magnificat! Learning to Sing Mary’s Song,” Carl Gregg, Patheos, 2011.
“Singing as an Act of Resistance,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.
Mary Did You Know lyrics
(A heartfelt thank you to An Advent Journey: Devotional Guide. Some of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this guide. I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my Advent sermon series. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)
(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog, A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)