2000 years of patriarchy have undoubtedly diminished the powerful words of the two women in our readings. Today we will centre one, a voice that comes to us in the form of a song.
“Magnificat anima mea Dominum.”
It sure sounds better in Latin. Mary’s Song, or the Magnificat as it is traditionally known, is the poetic reflection penned in Luke 1:46-55. In it, Mary provides a vision—the world will be transformed by and through the coming Messiah. Read the passage again and note the features.
The Lord will show mercy to everyone who honours him as God. He will scatter the arrogant and proud. He will pull the powerful down and lift the lowly. He feeds the hungry and will send the rich away empty. Mary is foretelling Jesus by outlining the way of Jesus before he arrives. This isn’t the first time either. Her words are echoed throughout Scripture. Prophets continuously demand a return to God’s best picture for our world. A kingdom that Jesus invites us to share and fulfill. What does this kingdom look like? The last shall be first. The hungry will be fed. The rich will be turned away. Justice will be realized, and the oppressor trampled. The opposite of how our culture and world looks in many ways.
The lingering impact of Mary’s words puts the church on notice, snapping our attention back towards the things that truly make us church. For many, this will require a re-imagination of sorts. Curiously, now is as good of a time as ever to make a change.
Who Are We?
As we wade through the monumental changes of 2020, churches are facing an identity crisis. The main one? What it means to be a church that no longer has a church service. Many congregations lost part of their identity when worship stopped. That was expected. But far too many lost their central identity when services ended. It seems bizarre, but so many have forgotten the church is the community of people, not the building or service where attendance is the chief activity.
COVID-19 has oddly become an equalizer of sorts, casting most into an array of confusion and despair. It’s stripped away the thing many hold most dear, forcing a blank slate and opportunity to return to what matters. Churches can respond in three ways. Struggle to figure out a new way of being in a post (and current) pandemic world; cling to the bygone era and hope enough people return to reclaim the old normal; or fight to preserve while refusing any change.
It’s not only the loss of a service that has challenged identity. The increased calls for justice in 2020 has forced many churches to confront a deeper understanding of racialized realities in our world. For example, we can no longer refer to “the church” in a generalized way. It’s not accurate (it never was) to call white Protestant or white Catholic churches “the church” without their racialized identity.
Look around you. Loss is everywhere. Grief and anger as well. And it’s in these places where our roots show. As you linger in various levels of Christmas isolation this year, what do you and your church hold dear? Articulating who we are reveals what and why we give certain things importance.
We know that the vocal few have married religious demands with white supremacy and nationalism as pillars of identity. Individual liberties, hatred for the immigrant and the neighbour, repudiation of justice, anti-mask “we must gather” calls, all to name a few. The health order defying “church” is no longer a signal of light, rather it harbours fear and bears death. They have traded the hope of Mary’s song for the right to sing Sunday between 10 and 12. But they are the few.
For the rest of us, we have to come fro grips with how we look when all the ornaments are taken away.
Most of us get it and won’t be meeting for our candlelight services. Most are acknowledging, albeit struggling, to figure out all of this loss. We’ve lost a way of life, our freedoms, our communities, and some of us our friends. Most of us will forgo family gatherings to keep the vulnerable safe. We offer some level of comfort, even if it’s not in person, when we can. We try to remind ourselves to give extra grace to everyone facing the same calamity. We sit in the feelings and realities, paying attention to not brush them aside or pretend they aren’t there. We cling to what little faith we have in attempt to make sense of the chaos in the world.
It’s here, in the chaos, where I hope each of us can picture in a more meaningful way what it means to sing for deliverance and long for a better world. Not a return to an old normal, but a re-orientation towards a more beautiful song.
Both Mary and Hannah remind us of a future renewal coupled with a present hope. Mary sang through oppression with a conviction that deliverance was coming. It was near, and he would change the world. In the same way, we too must we pay heed to her words and find inspiration to sing a new song in a new age of uncertainty and despair.