Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)
Magnificat for a Broken World
Yesterday, a group of us danced for joy at the IRIS Winter Party. It was held in the basement of a Baptist Church in New Haven where new and old friends and refugees gathered from all over the globe.
I learned some new dance steps and shimmied women with from Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Ecuador. Let me tell you I also found out our Kazadi family can dance! The potluck banquet of food spread out on colorful cloths was a reminder of the feast of plenty promised to all in the kindom of God.
In the same way, the biblical scene that unfolds at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home in our text today was also a one of great joy.
We know this gospel story from Luke…many of us can probably tell it by heart. Mary’s been touched by an angel, has said “YES!” to the LOVE growing strong within. (As Luke has chosen to tell the narrative) and now runs to her cousin “with haste” to share her secret. Together they form a community of waiting hope.
There is a leaping and sharing of twin joys as both women are expecting; Elizabeth, with John, and Mary, with Jesus. It is a double blessing! (We often find many double blessings in the scriptures, the writers often choosing parallel stories and characters to exemplify what God has done.) and Elizabeth exclaims twice that her child to be “leaped for joy.”
“Blessed are you” we hear (v.42)
Standing on the threshold of her new life, Mary sings an ancient hymn of Thanksgiving, the Magnificat, meaning praise. Attributed to Mary (though some scholars say it may have been Elizabeth’s), it can be traced back to Hannah’s psalm of praise found in the book of Samuel in the OldTestament. It echoes other songs of joy from other biblical characters surprised by God’s activity of mercy.
In the gospel of Luke, the birth narratives wake us up to Mary’s point of view. And to who her God is.
In the Magnificat, we hear the rare sound of Mary’s voice announcing a God who works miracles through the mundane. A God who reverses the social order and frames it with the power of mercy. Mercy.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices…
for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of her servant.” (v.46-47)
Like Mary and Elizabeth, we’re offered magnifying glasses to see everything in a new, shining light.
The bond of friendship,
The stirring of new life against all odds,
The power of a blessing
God’s promises to those who have been marginalized.
For the moment, human brokenness, forced exile and power plays are nowhere in the background.
Listening in on the lyrics line by line you might notice that
Mary sings of a God who “already has brought down the powerful” (v.52)
and “lifted up” those brought low
God has “already has filled the hungry with good things…”
As though the hoped-for imagined world of God’s justice and peace has already arrived. Is already worth singing about!
A Maya Angelou poem comes to mind:
“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
Scholars note that the “lowliness” Mary sings of, isn’t about humility or pretty images of meek and mild but rather referred to one’s standing in society. If you were considered “lowly”, you’d have been on the fringes of the social world, banished because of some shame or humiliation, especially if you were an unmarried, pregnant or barren woman.
Yet, Mary’s theology radiant in the Magnificat rejoices in the reversal of fortunes, rejoices in God’s mercy for the poor, the hungry, the stigmatized…
We’ve been waiting for love’s call this season, listening to the ancient faith stories reminding us once again that glory outshines despair and fear makes room for the birth of blessings. Here and now in the sacred scriptures of our own lives.
I hope you, too, can find a way into the Advent/Christmas stories like this one so they might come to life inside you.
How does God’s love move into the lowly places of our lives?
Where do you need the strength of mercy to shine on you and those you love?
Where have you seen Love magnified in unexpected ways?
How shall we wait with those suffering in the dark…?
Recently, I saw a shimmering photograph of Malala Yousafzi who won the Nobel Peace prize in 2012 at the age of 17. On this November day, Malala was standing near a photograph of herself newly placed in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Now a college student in Birmingham, England, this unassuming young woman changed the world when she stood up to extremism on her school bus years ago, shot by the Taliban with other classmates for going to school.
Amazingly, Malala recovered and has gone on to spread her song of freedom for girls and young women denied the right to an education in many countries of the world. Her book, I Am Malala, has been read worldwide and often a reading selection for middle and high schoolers.
If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
Malala admitted, “Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself.” 
Malala is a Mary of our current day broken world. Bearing love, and like Mary and Elizabeth, and using power in ways that give life– not take it away.
On the front cover of our bulletin this morning is another portrait, a different take on the holy image of Mary and the infant, Jesus.
The German artist, Beate Heine, is known for paintings that depict sacred biblical stories in today’s time and place. She’s known for painting images like the Three Kings walking into the bright lights of a Times Square…or the manger scene taking place in the back of a garbage truck…the only place it seems where they could find room.
Here we have Mary holding the baby Jesus behind barbed wire, a map of the world on her lap. Feet behind her, crowds walking by. She is perhaps like the millions of the hungry and homeless waiting for home.
Today, as we gather here, we know there are migrants far from home separated from their families.There are children held in buildings wrapped with barbed wire, filled with immense suffering.
We live in a time of no room. We struggle to understand inhumane policies declaring “NO ROOM’. Where militarism and nationalism —not mercy— prevail.
As Thomas Merton described it,
“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room… Christ comes uninvited…His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons…With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world, mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.”
On Friday night, at our FCCOL Christmas Party, we celebrated our community at it’s best. While a chorus of singers belted out carols, we ate homemade tamales wrapped in corn husks and ate cheese platters from Fromage. We also welcomed a new holy family from Waterbury to our community. Miguel Torres and his two children, a 1st grader, Kenneth, and Natalie, a 6th grader. As you may have heard on an NPR story, they witnessed the deportation of their beloved mother and wife back to Hondorus (in spite of the fact that her case for asylum was pending legally in the courts).
As a church, we have promised to wait with them in the coming New Year, we have promised to visit and invite them, provide a sense of belonging and friendship as they wait through this terrible ordeal for good news to come….”blessed are you” we say with our friendship as we imagine what CAN BE together in a world made new.
This kind of waiting is what the political theologian, Dorothee Solle, in the 80’s called, “revolutionary patience”. Revolutionary patience is a mindset and virtue grounded in hope and an urgency seeking justice over the long haul. As a community of faith and action, we know how to do that kind of waiting with one another, living in the “already, not quite yet” circle of grace.
“My soul magnifies the Lord!” Mary sang to generations past and future.
Touched by an angel, the arc of unconditional love invites us in to sing Mary’s tune –and make it our own.
May we see our lives as sacred, too, in these days and welcome all as holy whatever the waiting hours, the costs and joys, and unexpected gifts.
 Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban ( 2014)
 Thomas Merton, “The Time of the End Is the Time of No Room” in Raids on the Unspeakable, pages 51-52, 1966.
 Dorothee Solle, Revolutionary Patience, 1974