A few days ago writer D.L. Mayfield wrote in The Washington Post about the power of Mary’s Magnificat — and the all-too-common silencing of Mary, particularly in white evangelical environments. When it comes to the Magnificat, the song proclaimed by Mary while she was pregnant with Jesus, today’s public usages of the passage often end after the first few verses, Mayfield describes.
This morning I saw this phenomenon with my own eyes. The gospel passage indicated in the lectionary for Advent 4 was to be either the shorter option of Luke 1:39-45 (a preface to the Magnificat) or the longer option of Luke 1:39-55 (preface + Magnificat). The gospel passage read and preached in the church I happened to be at this morning was somewhere between the two; it was a reading from Luke 1:39-49 (preface + first few verses of the Magnificat).
This may sound nitpicky, but do you know what stopping Mary does to our understanding of Mary?
When we read and preach Luke 1:39-49 as I heard this morning, we let Mary start — but then we stop her. We’re like Kanye West barging on stage at the 2009 VMAs interrupting Taylor Swift by saying “Imma let you finish but…” actually narcissistically turning our attention elsewhere.
Moreover, when we stop Mary we’re suggesting that Mary can praise God — but she can’t change the world. She can “rejoice in God” but can’t testify to the radical, upside-down kingdom of God. She can be a music leader and children’s minister (valuable vocations in their own right, to be clear) but not a prophet or preacher. This but not that. Start but not finish. Hope but…
“Hope but…” is no hope at all.
“Hope but…” is a mechanism of social control keeping women and other minorities in their place when in reality the God in whom Mary rejoices is a God keen on liberating women and other minorities from places of captivity.
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.
Can you imagine that? The proud, powerful, and rich being scattered, brought down, sent away? The lowly and hungry lifted up and filled?
I can imagine it (though admittedly barely on the harder days). As a social worker and minister, I can clearly imagine the faces of clients or parishioners resilient in the face of traumatic sexism, racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and so much more. I can imagine the “lowly” and “hungry” seeking food, shelter, safety, dignity. And so I’m compelled to work alongside individuals, organizations, and communities for a day when, as another Christmas song says:
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Maybe it sounds optimistic and idealistic. Yet I think it sounds like the gospel — the gospel that Mary preached.
So Mary? Imma let you finish. No buts about it.