My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
[Luke 1:46b-47 NRSV]
The psalmody for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is from the Gospel of Luke [1:46-55], commonly known as “The Magnificat.”
As some of you may know, for the first nine years of ministry, I served a congregation of mostly immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Every December 12, we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Obviously it falls during the season of Advent, around the third or fourth Sunday. For them, Mary’s song, “The Magnificat,” was rich with meaning. It is through Our Lady of Guadalupe’s mediation that Latino people come to know God’s liberating message previously communicated in the Magnificat.
For many of us however, The Magnificat is just a pretty song that we sing at Evening Prayer and during Advent. Yet if you listen to the text carefully you’ll note that it’s a revolutionary song—perhaps one of the most revolutionary documents available. With its images of reversals and the surprising “upside down” way of God’s justice, it has been especially favored of those who are oppressed.
Martin Luther, in his commentary on the Magnificat, says that the Magnificat “comforts the lowly and terrifies the rich.”
It is also interesting to note that in Guatemala during the 1980’s, the government for a time outlawed the reading of the Magnificat in public precisely because of its revolutionary implications. All sorts of “trouble” can start when the people get their hands on the Bible, it seems. Maybe the governmental authorities of Guatemala were just paying more attention than most of us pay as we sing our hymns.
In Mary’s song, God intervenes on behalf of the “lowly” and the “hungry.” God lifts them up, but “scatters the proud ones,” “destroys the powerful ones,” and “sends away empty” the rich.
Listen carefully to the words of the Magnificat. Not the poetry of the words, the beauty of the words, the loveliness of the words. Listen to the five important verbs. In the Magnificat, God tells us that God regards or respects the poor, exalts the poor, feeds the poor, helps the poor, remembers the poor.
This is called God’s “preferential option for the poor,” according the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff. God is always on the side of those on the bottom, those who are excluded, those left out. Yet, God does not triumph over their oppressors in a vindictive act, but rather a loving one. God wants them to change and join the mission of the kingdom.
And that mission is ours as well. Even though there are proportionately many more people with enough (and more than enough) to live comfortably than there were in Mary’s time, the church is still called to speak out when it sees an injustice that results in the suffering of the poor. When Jesus gets a hold of us, I mean REALLY gets a hold of us, Jesus revolutionizes our lives; he turns everything upside down and we look at the world differently.
The words of Mary’s song are just as powerful in our time and her dream is our dream, too. As long as millions of children go to bed hungry or homeless or afraid each night, there are tables to be turned. That is what we in the church are called to, a life of caring and sharing.
It is the news of God’s coming, God’s advent, that gives Mary the courage to sing, and gives us, gives you and me the courage to BE once again.
As we prepare for this Christmas ponder the events around you—consider what God has done—consider God’s very great promises to us—accept his commands—act on the promises and you too will give birth to Jesus.
God, in Jesus, gives hope to a failed people in a fallen world. We now hope that by the birth of a child, love and trust might exist in our lives again, for us and through us.
Through you, as through Mary, God will come to bless this world and we will be able, with joy, to say with Mary: “Our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior!”