A reading from Luke, the first chapter.
“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
For you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
and holy is your Name.
Your mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear you.
You have shown strength with your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit;
you have deposed the mighty from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of Israel your servant, mindful of your mercy—the promise you made to our ancestors— to Sarah and Abraham and their descendants forever.”
(The Inclusive Bible)
As someone from a liturgical Christian tradition, we usually read this passage from Luke in the midst of the season of Advent. A season of waiting, of anticipation, of preparation.
It is not quite Advent yet, but many of us right now are well accustomed to waiting. We have been waiting and waiting throughout this pandemic for an end to be in sight. Waiting for decisions about work or school. Waiting for the election to come. Waiting for the election to be over. Waiting for election results. Waiting to see what will happen under a current administration that refuses to promise a peaceful transition of power or guarantee certified election results where every vote is counted.
And for some of us, even before tonight there has been so much waiting. The kind of almost existential waiting that cries out with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord?” How long will we be suffering? How long will we live paycheck to paycheck, choosing between paying for medication or keeping on the lights? How long will blood run in our streets? How long will we keep people in cages? How long until our identities, our marriages, our bodies are treated as sacred? How long?
But Mary did not write this song of praise in a world where everything was figured out. She did not sing this song of liberation in a place where she was already free. Mary wrote this song in the grand tradition of the Hebrew Prophets before her, in the midst of displacement and violent occupation and an Empire that seemed too big to ever fall. She wrote of tyrants being cast down in a time where evil must have seemed stronger than ever. She sang this song, this freedom song, this protest chant while growing a child in her belly, under socially suspect circumstances, where in addition to the terror of the reign of the Roman Occupation, her own personal life was in complete upheaval.
Mary wrote this defiant song of triumph while the boot of the Empire was still on her neck.
Mary sang of these things – the tyrants being cast down, the lowly lifted up, the rich sent away empty, the hungry full of good things – she sang of them before they were true. She gestated this hope inside of her just as she gestated the tiny Christ child.
And Mary made this hope real by sharing it with her cousin and friend, Elizabeth. She sang this song following Elizabeth’s blessing for her. I can imagine these two women clutching on to one another, breathing these words, hoping against hope that they were true. I can picture them angry and giddy and determined and tired. Like us. I can picture them preaching to each other the things they needed to believe, conjuring up a future not yet realized that they were desperate to be true.
We don’t know what the next days and weeks will bring. Neither did our ancestors. Yet they knew the truth. That Empires rise and fall. That tyrants are not as all powerful as they seem. That our hope does not come from the precarious promises of politicians but from the people. And from God.