December 23, 2018
Let’s set the stage: The angel Gabriel has been busy at work appearing, first to Zechariah, a priest and the husband of Elizabeth, telling him that his elderly, barren wife will bear him a son and he should call him John. Terrified, Zechariah has his doubts, and because of them he is struck mute until John is born. How often do we ignore that still, small voice within us, failing to hear or doubting its message, or just ignoring it?
Six months later Gabriel appeared to Mary, informing her that she too will be with child and she is to call him Jesus. “He will be great, and will be called the son of the Most High…” she’s told. (Luke 1:32a) Mary has her doubts too, but responds, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) During the same visit Gabriel informed Mary that her relative Elizabeth was also with child. And this is where our story begins: Luke 1: 39-55
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
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;
he has 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 he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Throughout Advent, and in most of the scriptures, we’ve been hearing from the men. Not surprising, since they lived in a patriarchal society. Finally, thanks to Luke, we have the story of two prophetic women, filled with the Spirit, and carrying prophets of their own.
Mary stayed for three months and we can only imagine the stories and advice they shared - these two women from different generations, carrying their first child, experiencing those first kicks in the womb, anticipating labor pains and the joy of bringing new life into the world.
Mary’s joy at the gift God has given her overflows in a song of praise we call The Magnificat. In it she seems to be transformed into a radical prophet speaking of God’s work in the world: bringing down the powerful and lifting up the lowly (as God has done for her), filling the hungry with good things while sending the rich away empty.
I think the writer, or translator got his tenses mixed up because Mary speaks as though all this has already been accomplished, and we know, even today, there is much yet to be done. It’s as though Mary knew the one she was carrying in her womb was coming to fulfill God’s promises. I wonder if Jesus learned from his mother at an early age about the poor and hungry, and the meek being blessed, the first being last and the last first?
The Magnificat is a prayer of hope from a poor, young girl living in a time when hope for a better life was desperately needed. They lived under the oppression of Herod the Great, who imposed burdensome taxes, that built the temple and supported his lavish life style, while costing the poor their land, leaving masses impoverished, while concentrating the wealth at the top 2%.
Herod was so brutal and unpopular that one story says that he knew people would party when he died, so “he had 70 elite Jewish citizens imprisoned with orders that they be executed on the day of his death so that there would be tears in Israel.” (Ortberg)
The death of Herod did not bring about the end of evil kings and dictators. This week I thought about all the women who have continued to speak Mary’s song for their generations and cultures, despite attempts to silence of ignore their voices: women who have spoken truth to power, who have stood up for the poor and marginalized, who have spoken words of hope in hopeless communities. There are so many. Let’s hear from a few.
Rebekah: Today Mary’s Song is raised in the voices of those working with the poor: in the voice of Dorothy Day: journalist, activist, social justice worker and co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement:
The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?
“People say, ‘What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.”
“Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them.”
The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him. It is the only way we have of knowing and believing in our love. The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.
Susan: Mary’s voice is heard in those who speak out for others who suffer from violence, oppression and discrimination: Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for female education, and youngest Nobel Price laureate, spoke to the children in her lecture upon receiving her 2014 Peace Prize
… through my story I want to tell other children all around the world that they should stand up for their rights. …I believe that the Nobel Committee – they haven’t given (the Nobel Peace Prize) just to me. This award is for all those children who are voiceless, whose voices need to be heard. And I speak for them and I stand up with them and I join them in their campaign, that their voices should be heard and they should be listened to and they have rights. They have the right to receive quality education. They have the right not to suffer from child labor, not to suffer from child trafficking. They have the right to live a happy life. So I stand up with – with all those children and this award is especially for them. It gives them courage.
Mary Anne: Mary’s voice is heard in Nadia Murad’s - a Yazidi from Iraq, in her 2018 Nobel Peace Prize lecture:
In the 21st Century, in the age of globalization and human rights, more than 6,500 Yazidi children were taken captive to be sold, bought, and sexually and psychologically abused…It is unfathomable that the conscience of the leaders of 195 countries around the world is not mobilized to liberate these girls. What if they were a commercial deal, an oil field or a shipment of weapons? Most certainly, no efforts would be spared to liberate them.
For four years I have been traveling the world to tell my story and that of my community and others, without achieving any success…If justice is not done, this genocide will be repeated against us and other vulnerable communities.
Thank you very much for this honor, but the only prize in the world that may restore our dignity is justice and the prosecution of criminals.
Women must also be the key to solving many problems and must be involved in building lasting peace among communities. With the voice and participation of women, our communities can change fundamentally.
Let us all fight injustice and oppression. Let us raise our voices and say:
No to violence, yes to peace. No to slavery, yes to freedom. No to racial discrimination, yes to equality and human rights for all. No to exploiting women and children, yes to giving them a decent and independent life. No to impunity for criminals, yes to holding them accountable and to achieving justice.
Carol: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in her 2011 Nobel Peace Prize lecture, speaks of hope:
Yet, there is occasion for optimism and hope. There are good signs of progress and change. Around the world, slowly, international law and an awareness of human rights are illuminating dark corners, in schools, in courts, in the marketplace. The windows of closed chambers where men and women have been unspeakably abused are being opened, and the light is coming in. Democracies, even if tentatively, are taking root in lands unaccustomed to freedom.
As curtains are raised and as the sun shines upon dark places, what was previously invisible comes into view. Technology has turned our world into one interconnected neighborhood. What happens in one place is seen in every corner, and there has been no better time for the spread of peace, democracy and their attending social justice and fairness for all.
Today, across the globe, women, and also men, from all walks of life are finding the courage to say, loudly and firmly, in a thousand languages, “No more.” They reject mindless violence, and defend the fundamental values of democracy, of open society, of freedom, and of peace.
So I urge my sisters, and my brothers, not to be afraid. Be not afraid to denounce injustice, though you may be outnumbered. Be not afraid to seek peace, even if your voice may be small. Be not afraid to demand peace.
If I might thus speak to girls and women everywhere, I would issue them this simple invitation: My sisters, my daughters, my friends, find your voices! Each of us has her own voice, and the differences among us are to be celebrated. But our goals are in harmony. They are the pursuit of peace, the pursuit of justice. They are the defense of rights to which all people are entitled.
Susan: Mary’s voice is raised daily in the voices of journalists across the world, many of them who have been imprisoned or lost their lives for speaking out.
Marie Colvin, the celebrated American foreign war correspondent, who died covering the siege in Homs, Syria, spoke of the importance of the voices of journalists today. Our mission, she said, is to speak truth to power.
She said in one of her BBC broadcasts in 1999 in East Timor, where she reported from a besieged compound containing 1,500 women and children. “These are people who have no voice …I feel I have a moral responsibility towards them, that it would be cowardly to ignore them. If journalists have a chance to save their lives, they should do so.” They were later freed after Marie’s broadcasts made international leaders put pressure on the Indonesian government to let them all go.
She speaks to all of us when she said: Be passionate and be involved in what you believe in, and do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can.
These are Advent voices: voices of hope, peace, joy and love. They are voices we need to keep hearing. They inspire us to speak up when we witness injustice, to put our words into action, and to inspire others to do the same. God’s promises are fulfilled when God’s people listen for God’s word and open their hearts to help fulfill Her promises.
RESPONSE HYMN Who Would Have Thought