What’s one of your favourite songs? Personally, I love K.D. Lang’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. But I like it, more because of the way she performs it. I’m talking about those songs that speak your truth for you, names what you are feeling, articulates what you can’t find the words for.
Songs that allow us to catch our breath. Songs that bring hope because their very existence says to us we are not alone. That what we are experiencing is being experienced by others and we are not weird, or strange, others have experienced what we do. Songs that allow us to hold on to each other.
Songs can be powerful. Mary sang. Incredibly, Mary sang at a time when she was no longer considered her mother’s favourite child. Heck, she wasn’t even considered a good child now. Ever felt like that? When something you have said or done has lowered you a rung on the family ladder of worthiness? It becomes the elephant in the room. Something that hangs there like a label over your head that names you but no one ever really talks about. Mary may not have been thrown out on the street but that uncomfortable silence follows her through the house. Her story is being dismissed, her word distrusted. Mary is not to be believed.
But it is different today as she stands on the door step to her cousin Elizabeth’s house. Elizabeth who pulls open the door with a hand covered in age spots and a tummy bump that defies explanation. In the background is Elizabeth’s husband performing his own kind of wild hand language. There is an innate understanding between these two women. Their common experience shoves reason back into the closets of their minds and opens the door of their hearts to the reality that miracles really do happen. They both accept each other’s pregnancies for the miracles they are. So, for once in what seems to be a long time, Mary begins to sing. It is her own rendition of the words the prophet Hannah spoke when experiencing the presence of the living God in her own life. Mary sings how God has drawn both she and Elizabeth into the drama of God’s salvation story. Here is a God who has been siding with the oppressed since the days of Egypt. Now, Elizabeth and Mary take their places on this stage.
So this morning, if you can not give voice to a song as Christmas approaches, hang on Mary’s every word, every sentence, every turn of phrase, for she sings for you naming our deep desire to connect with God and become a part of God’s salvation plan. Mary sings of mercy, not something she has felt a lot of lately. Her law-abiding community sees her as one who has betrayed her betrothed. She most certainly should be the last person testifying about love, God’s love. Yet, this is why her voice is so powerful. Mercy is defined as “a kindness of forgiving treatment of someone who should be treated harshly.” Mary , who has been treated harshly, knows what a difference it has made to her to experience Elizabeth’s mercy; what a difference God’s mercy has made in her life, offered to her through Elizabeth and Zechariah. On that doorstep she now sees herself as one who was called by God. The song proclaims to us that God’s mercy really matters because it can change who you believe yourself to be; the difference between being dismissed or being called to fulfill your destiny as a child of God.
Mary also comes to see herself as a woman deeply blessed. This makes me deeply aware that Mary is a woman of greater faith than I. Maybe this is because I think of blessedness in terms of our time. (Hash tag)# Blessed has come to mean a life of privilege and comfort. It has become a way of celebrating those moments in our lives when everything is going well and all seems right with the world.
Mary never experienced any of these things. She was a peasant girl from a hick town. The floor had just fallen out from beneath her standing as a lowly handmaiden. Now she stands in the basement where the disgraced, the betrayers, the lawbreakers all stand looking to find some light. It’s not blessing to live in the basement of life. If it hadn’t been for a little divine intervention and God sending an angel into Joseph’s life, Mary would have simply been forgotten. But even as she brings forth her first born child, the old priest Simeon declares that this child she holds in her arms will be the cause of the rise and fall of many in Israel, and that she too will have many a sword pierce her own heart. A far cry from a beach house on the Mediterranean kind of blessing.
But when Mary sings of blessedness, you can feel the weight of her words. She sings of a God who is not content to simply point people towards heaven. She sings of a God who, in real time, in our time, does the work of redemption right here on earth. God fills the hungry not with words but with real manna, real food. Instead of simply offering comforting words to the lowly, her God has lifted her and others up, granting them dignity and honour. Mary no longer sees herself as shamed and dismissed. She knows herself to be the one who helps birth salvation into the world.
Hear this as well. Mary’s God does not exclude. So often we think about God who honours one segment of society while ignoring the other. Often we think of our God as one who honours the poor and lowly while turning God’s back on the rich and powerful. That’s not Mary’s God. She believes that God is saving the rich by emptying them. I’m sure the rich probably don’t see it that way but Mary sings that if all people would lift their eyes to God, if the rich would turn their gaze from themselves, from their own accomplishments and direct their awe towards God, then their arrogance would fade away, and they would learn what it means to love your neighbour just as much as you love yourself. As opposed to a topsy-turvy kind of a world where the lowly rise to the top and the rich sink to the bottom, there is more of a social leveling where everyone has enough and no one person has too much.
Mary sings of a world blessed so that all people are treated with dignity and respect, and no one uses their power to cause harm or pain to another. This is the blessedness God wishes to extend to the world, using people like Elizabeth and Mary to bless the world with a Messiah. So this is why Mary felt compelled to sing on Elizabeth’s doorstep.
Lost your voice this Christmas? Don’t feel much like singing? You can borrow Mary’s song. I’m sure she won’t mind because it is your song of mercy and blessedness as well. How God takes all of us from being dismissed to being called to take our part in the salvation of this world.