Mary, the mother of Jesus, is many things to many people. She causes conflict amongst Christians, who debate whether she is a magnificent bearer of God, or a simple human woman. She causes conflict amongst feminists, who debate whether she limits a woman’s role to motherhood, or whether her presence in an often patriarchal tradition is something to celebrate. Despite her outrageous popularity, Mary is controversial. But that controversy rarely focuses on the two truly scandalous things about her. First: Mary was an unwed teenager who became pregnant with God. More about that on Christmas. And, secondly: during her pregnancy, Mary opened her mouth, and said this:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
who has looked with favor on the lowliness of her 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.
God’s mercy is for those who fear her from generation to generation;
She has shown strength with her arm
and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has pulled down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.
God has helped her servant Israel, in remembrance of her mercy,
According to the promise she made to our ancestors,
to Abraham his descendants forever.
Whatever else Mary is or is not, Mary is a prophet. Only a prophet can speak words of such powerful promise that they cause both fear and hope. These words in the Gospel of Luke point us away from any mixed feelings we may have about Mary; away from the commercial madness around us; away from the sentimentality that sometimes wraps itself around the manger scene. Like any true prophet, Mary turns our attention to God, and what God is doing among us this season: magnifying Godself in humankind; relieving the suffering of the poor; and granting mercy to God’s people.
Her message has been captured with modern images in this video from the Salt Project:
May Mary’s prophetic words be a blessing to you this season.
Emmanuel, we thank you for the words of your prophet, Mary. We long for you to be magnified, also, in us. Help us to say yes to you. Help us to praise you. Help us to bear your word into this world. May your strange, earth-shaking love bloom in us. Amen.
Image credit: Collage of holiday advertisements made by House of All Sinners and Saints, a Lutheran congregation.