This past Sunday evening I joined some ninety voices from the Haywood Community Chorus to sing the Magnificat by John Rutter. In Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus, Mary sang this song of praise after meeting with her cousin Elizabeth, who was miraculously pregnant with the boy who would become John the Baptizer. Mary, who had already been visited by the angel Gabriel with the announcement that God had selected her to bear a son who will inherit the throne of David, then burst into this hymn of praise.
Luke has clearly drawn on the similar hymn of praise from Hannah, the mother of Samuel, whose son led Israel to the point that it asked Samuel to select a king for them, thus beginning the monarchical line that leads to Jesus. Mary’s hymn of praise stands at the center of the whole Christian understanding of how the savior of the world emerges from Israel’s faithful longing for a Messiah who will lead the world into justice, healing, and shalom.
Singing these words this year, in the midst of the trauma at the heart of my own country’s governance and the cascade of revelations of male sexual exploitation of the women around them, Mary and Hannah’s powerful words take on a new depth and meaning. We have often dwelled on the way these women were exploited by a decidedly masculine God to produce the males who were to rescue us from sin, injustice, and even death. However, another face of this story can be seen here as well. Mary and Hannah emerge from the veil of anonymity and powerlessness to be the bearers of a new order of justice. In the suffering they endure they bring out into the light a transcendent order of righteousness. In their suffering they gain a new voice. They become the way into a new order that sets things right within a history of brutality, lies, and horrific subjugation.
And so, as I sang once again the ancient Latin words Magnificat anima mea Dominum et exaltavit spiritus meus in Deo salutary meo, I was thinking of the opening to the light that the brave women of #MeToo and many others are bringing into our world. Perhaps the deeply private, dark world of subjugation in which we have dwelled all these centuries has now experienced a moment of illumination that can lead us to the light of a new level of justice, of mutual respect and care for which we are longing but which also overturns the world as it is.
Here are the words of Hannah and Mary for you to ponder in your hearts this season.
Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in Yahweh;
my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in my victory.
There is no Holy One like Yahweh,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth,
for Yahweh is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
Yahweh kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
Yahweh makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
Yahweh raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are Yahweh’s
and on them he has set the world.
“He will guard the feet of the faithful,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
for not by might does one prevail.
Yahweh! His adversaries shall be shattered;
the Most High will thunder in heaven.
Yahweh will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king.,
and exalt the power of his anointed.”
(I Samuel 2:1-10)
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm and
scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
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;
he has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”