Sermon on Luke 1:39-55
A couple weeks ago, I talked about how the Gospel of Luke was like a musical, in that the characters sometimes break out into song at important moments. If you recall, we’ve got the song of Zechariah, when John the Baptist is born, we’ve got the songs of the angels at the birth of Jesus, the song of Simeon, when Jesus is a child… and then there’s this one, Mary’s song. If the gospel of Luke were a musical, this would be the real show stopper. I mean the whole chorus would get out there and sing and dance and the set would light up, maybe a kick line.
So the song of Mary is named the Magnificat in Latin, which means magnify—my soul magnifies the Lord, she sings. We’re actually singing it three different ways today.
But I have to wonder why the Magnificat isn’t one of those Christmas carols that we hear everywhere. I mean, there’s no shortage of songs about mother and child, meek and mild. But why aren’t pop singers recording Mary’s own words? The closest we get is “Mary Did you Know,” which (sorry to those who like the song) is an abomination on many different levels—not least because OF COURSE SHE KNEW THE ANGEL TOLD HER.
But I digress. Maybe the reason the Magnificat isn’t playing nonstop on the radio is because what it has to say is a little…unsettling. Mary’s response to God’s blessing is to proclaim that God is going to come and turn the whole place upside-down. We have this image of this sweet and innocent virgin.
But, I don’t know, this sounds a whole lot like a fiery revolutionary.
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.
Burn it to the ground! Long live the Revolution!
So, here’s why we don’t hear the Magnificat too often. Can you imagine this message ringing out in the shopping malls as we buy buy buy and spend spend spend? In our world of abundance, in all our riches and excesses, in our hunger for more…we don’t want to be reminded of God’s priorities. They’re not about getting the best deal or finding the right present to go under the tree. God’s priorities are filling the hungry with good things, scattering the proud.
The beggar is knocking at our door. The peasant is coming to the king’s table.
Now, look, I struggle with this as much as you. I like getting presents under the tree. And I write my check to the appropriate charities and I support all the right causes, so what do I have to worry about? And that’s great and all, but the vision of God’s reign that is laid out by Mary is a vision of a completely different world. One where everything is turned on it’s head. Where the status quo—the way things have always been—is completely shattered. Beyond recognition.
This is a God that’s not just content to save souls, but to embody people. This is a God that’s not just pointing us towards heaven, but empowering us to do the God’s saving work here on Earth. This is a God that doesn’t just comfort the lowly, the unfortunate, the poor—but lifts them up, places them on the highest pedestal, giving them the honored seat at the banquet table.
So how can we reflect that? In this festive season, what can we do, what should we do, to live out this vision? Well, I think one solid step would be, when we’re writing our checks to all the various charities and causes, we might look a little deeper.
Maybe, as we help feed the hungry—we might ask why they’re hungry in the first place? When we help shelter the homeless—maybe we should wonder why they’re homeless. What are the barriers that our neighbors face that keep them from thriving? Where should the lofty and the powerful be humbled?
I don’t know, Pastor, that sounds a little socialist to me… Well, I don’t think Mary was all that acquainted with economic theory. This, I think is a vision that goes beyond governments and policy. Jesus confused the powers of his day, just as he confuses the powers of ours.
We can only see the finite, and so for us, it’s easy to think that someone else’s gain is our loss. But Jesus shows us again and again that the loaves and the fishes do not run out. Mary shows us that even the most humble can be showered with abundant blessing. When we think that there is nothing more that we can do, that we are at the end, Jesus throws open the doors, turns over the tables and shows us another way.
It is a way out of our own narrow thinking. It’s a path from death to life. Jesus opens our eyes to all the possibilities and let’s us imagine a future that is different, more equal, more loving, more godly. All in ways that we least expect it.
After all, God chose a young girl in a forgotten corner of the world to bear his message to the world. Not a king, not a queen, not some governor—not the emperor—no, Mary. The child leaps for joy in her womb as she sees the future that God has in store for all of us.
And we, in turn, wait with expectant hope for the coming of that child, for the coming of that future. We feast at the table that is never empty. We come to the waters that never run dry.
And we sing, with Mary:
My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.
Artwork by Benjamin Wildflower