Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55) is an expression of great faith and humble gratitude. It is the outpouring of a soul that has reflected deeply on the significance of the wondrous things that are happening within and around her. It is a voicing of the inner hopes and biblical longings of God’s people that are just beginning to be fulfilled in her lifetime, and most amazingly, through her.
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation. (Luke 1:46-50 NIV)
Remarkably for this young teenager, she has the insight and vision to know how far-reaching is the impact of what God is doing in her in this little country among this people called Jews.
It is not just about her. It is not just about Israel. It is not just about Rome. It is the fulfillment of generations of hope that will extend to all generations of the future. It is the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and his descendents forevermore.
It is kingdom come, the overthrow of evil, the lifting up of the faithful humble, and the destruction of arrogant materialists. It is God’s overthrow of those who revolted against his loving rule. It is God’s revolutionary gospel of true freedom.
Mary exults in the second half of her song:
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors. (Luke 1:51-55 NIV)
William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942 to 1944 and sometimes called the most brilliant man to hold that post since St. Anselm in the 12th century, is said to have warned his missionaries to India never to read the Magnificat in public. Christians were already suspect in that country and they were cautioned against reading verses so inflammatory.
In his book, The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus, Scot McKnight writes, “There are two Marys. One wears a Carolina blue robe, exudes piety from a somber face, often holds her baby son in her arms, and barely makes eye contact with us. The real Mary,” McKnight writes, “was a subversive.”
McKnight goes on to detail just how revolutionary Mary was: “If you were a poor woman in the first century, if you were hungry, if you had experienced the injustices of Herod, and if you stood up in Jerusalem and announced that God would yank down the proud, the rulers, and the rich from their high places, you likely would be tried for subversion. If you were Herod or one of his ten wives or one of his many sons or daughters with (unexpressed, of course) hopes for the throne, you would conclude that Mary was a rebel, a revolutionary, a social protester.”
Mary proclaims that with the Messiah now growing in her womb, God will soon do what he has done so often in the past. God is coming to change society so that wrongs will be righted, injustice will be corrected, and the oppressed and downtrodden will be lifted up and those who have elevated and exalted themselves will be humbled.
But as she pours out her thoughts to her cousin Elizabeth, nothing has changed yet. The rich and powerful oppress and the poor continue to struggle. And God’s people yearn for freedom, physical and spiritual. They ask, “Has God forgotten us? When will God act? What does God want us to do right now?”
Mary knows: God has remembered; God is acting now. David’s greater son will reign in an everlasting kingdom (Luke 1:32-33).
Does she believe Rome will be overthrown? Does she have any idea that her son, who is also God’s unique Son, will begin his rule on the cross as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah? We only know for sure that she was faithful from beginning to end, and took her place among the first witnesses to the risen Lord. She was a part of Christ’s revolution that began with changed hearts and forgiveness, and in Christ’s love began to change the world. A real revolution, but led by the Prince of Peace.
And here this humble, powerless teenager is right in the middle of what God is doing. She submits to God’s will and purpose for her despite the trouble it will bring her, and the personal cost she only has a glimpse of ahead.
Many such have heard and responded to that call: Salvation Army co-founder Catherine Booth; missionary and writer Elizabeth Elliot; civil rights activist Rosa Parks; South African Bishop Desmond Tutu; Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller; and Prison Fellowship’s Chuck Colson, to name a very few.
Another young teen age girl strikes me as having the same spirit as Mary. Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban, has been campaigning for girls’ right to education in a conservative area of Pakistan since she was 12, first through a secret blog for the BBC, then as part of a New York Times documentary. She later won Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize. And when the Taliban returned to the area where she lived they tried to assassinate her.
She recently expressed gratitude to the people around the world who have supported her as she recovers from the traumatic attack. “Thank you so much for the outpouring of love and support,” Malala said in a message read by Anderson Cooper at the CNN Heroes ceremony in Los Angeles. “I thank the people that supported me without distinguishing religion and color.” In her message, she praised girls in northwestern Pakistan “who are continuing their studies despite threats from militants.”
Only God knows how close she is to the Kingdom, but she certainly is living in the spirit of Mary. She is a humble and powerless teen, doing what she can to lift up the oppressed and right that which is wrong – even at great risk to herself.
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26 NIV)
So said the revolutionary Prince of Peace.
God remembers his people and his promises.And Jesus came for everyone — regardless of their status in the world. But we have to come to God on his terms rather than ours. Like Mary, we humble ourselves. We turn from our self-centeredness. We say, “May it be to me as you will.” And we turn to God for his strength, his wealth, and his wholeness.
There are many people who feel forgotten in this world; many who are oppressed and poor. But when we talk about being forgotten, know that God remembers. But God goes one step further – God comes. God comes into our world. God comes to us.
And then he calls us to go into our world with him. Doing what we can, risking ourselves with revolutionary love, in the spirit of his Son…and in the spirit of the mother of God’s only Son.
Tom McCrossan is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church of America, serving in special ministry as an Assistant Chaplain at a local rescue mission. His grandfather was a minister first in the Methodist and then in the Presbyterian Church. His uncle served at the Victory Service Club of the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles. He is married with three grown children and lives in Schenectady, NY.