I love Advent. I love this time of anticipation and mystery, this time of waiting and hope. Not all is well in the world, but God is there, Immanuel, to guide us through the mess of our lives.
And each Advent, I look forward to hearing the voice of one whose life is about as messy as it gets: the voice of Mary.
Women are totally underrepresented in our Holy Scriptures. And when they appear, they don’t say much, if anything at all. In the entire Bible, women speak about 14,000 words collectively – that may sound like a lot, but this represents merely 1.1% of all the words in the Bible. And, for comparison: that’s about 3 of my sermons.
But women are crucial to the whole story of God and God’s people. Well, for beginners, without women, there wouldn’t be any men. And women are crucial in the story of the salvation of humanity. Mary especially, since she bears and gives birth to Jesus, the Savior of his people, the savior of creation. We Lutherans – and Protestants of all kinds in general – have neglected this important role of Mary somewhat, ‘thanks’ to Martin Luther, who thought that Mary is venerated too much in the Roman Catholic and the orthodox traditions.
Mary has become quite silent in our Protestant tradition. For the most part, she has become a prop, meek and mild. Which, in my opinion, is a shame. For she has something to say, something that transcends time and space.
Now any among you who heard me preach on Mary online last Advent might remember that I talked about my personal dislike for the very popular Christmas song, ‘Mary, did you know?’ And I am emphasizing: it is a personal dislike. I am very much aware that many people find deep meaning in this song and are touched by it in a special way, and I don’t want to discredit that.
I mainly have issues with this song because here we are, in Advent, and we are invited by our Scriptures to listen to what Mary has to say as she is waiting for and anticipates the birth of this divine, yet human child, about whom amazing things are prophesied – and instead, we hear someone talking TO Mary – and, just as a footnote, the lyrics were written by a man, Mark Lowry. ‘Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?’, and so on. So we hear all these questions for Mary, which are rhetorical, because Mary never gets a chance to respond. The image of the Protestant Mary, meek and mild and strangely mute, seems to be perpetuated through this song.
But there are her very own words in our Holy Scriptures. We hear her voice, loud and clear:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46a-55)
Mary has a voice, a strong voice, a powerful voice. It may even make us uncomfortable, with all the talk of filling the poor and sending the rich away empty. She has faith in God, who, through the angel Gabriel, announced to her that the child she is carrying would turn the world around. It is a voice we still need to hear, in our day and age: because there is still so much injustice, so much suffering, so much corruption, so much exploitation in this world today. It is a voice we still need to hear; and may it inspire us to speak up and act up ourselves when we encounter powers that oppose God’s good will for all.
A couple of days ago, as my husband was opening an email attachment he had received from a friend, I heard someone play the opening chords of ‘Mary, did you know?’ on the guitar. And I was rolling my eyes and said to Fred, ‘Ugh, is this what I think it is?’
And he said, ‘Wait! And listen!’ And I heard amazing new words written to the melody of ‘Mary, did you know?’
‘Mary, did you know that your ancient words would still leap of the pages?
Mary, did you know that your spirit song would echo through the ages?
Did you know that your holy cry would be subversive word?
That the tyrants would be trembling when they know your truth is heard?
Mary, did you know that your lullaby would stir your own child’s passion?
Mary, did you know that your song inspires the work of liberation?
Did you know that your jubilee is hope within the heart
Of all who dream of justice, who yearn for it to start?
Mary, did you know?
The truth with teach, the drum will sound, healing for the pain.
The poor will rise, the rich will fall, hope will live again.
Mary, did you know that we hear your voice for the healing of the nations?
Mary, did you know your unsettling cry can help renew creation?
Do you know that we need your faith, the confidence of you?
May the God that you believe in be so true.
Aren’t these beautiful and powerful words? These were, not surprisingly, written by a woman, Jennifer Henry.
I love Advent. I love this time of anticipation and mystery, this time of waiting and hope. Not all is well in the world, but God Immanuel, will be born soon and be with us, to guide us through the mess of our lives.
And each Advent, I look forward to hearing the voice of one whose life is about as messy as it gets, and who still clings to God with every fiber of her being: the voice of Mary, which not only shines, but burns in the darkness, and inspires us to hope against all hope. Amen
This post is also available in: German