by Kara Crawford
“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
For you have looked with favor
upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward
all generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
and holy is your Name.
Your mercy reaches from age to age
for those who fear you.
For you have shown strength with your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit;
you have deposed the mighty from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
mindful of your mercy -
the promise you made to our ancestors -
to Sarah and Abraham
and their descendants forever.”
(Luke 1:46-55, The Inclusive Bible)
I have never quite understood how Mary found the strength within her to bear such a heavy burden. I can hardly imagine being so young – barely a teenager, an unmarried girl – and finding out that I was pregnant with the son of God. Quite a bit of pressure, right?
Even more amazing to me is her response. After a moment of shocked hesitance, she says to the angel, “I am a servant of God. Let it be done to me as you say.” As such a young woman, living in her cultural, political, and personal context, this was a very brave decision on her part to accept God's call, quite literally risking life and fiancee to carry out her call.
What is most striking for me, though, is her song of praise which follows the initial events of her call, most commonly called the Magnificat. Many of us, when we receive our calls, try to avoid it, saying “isn't there someone more qualified? More worthy? More...not me?”
Mary, on the other hand, does something quite different. Instead of asking God “why didn't you choose a queen for this noble task?” she rejoices in a God who exalts the lowly and fills the hungry, a God who casts out the powerful and proud from their high places. A God who turns the system on its head and empowers the marginalized to hold the most important places in the processes of liberation.
In her moment of call, Mary discovered that she would not only play a role in God's liberating process, but that she would bear the seed of liberation, the Christ, the Messiah. In the Magnificat, Mary spoke the prophetic truth of kingdom come – the kingdom of God will not come about by means of the rich and powerful, but rather when the humble and lowly are lifted up and the high and mighty are brought down from their thrones.
Often we allow the Gospel narrative to disappear between the bookends of the idyllic birth scene, the “holy infant so tender and mild” and the triumphant victory of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over death. When we do this, though, we forget the most liberating elements of the narrative. Looking at the Magnificat rather than the birth as the beginning of the story gives us a whole new perspective.
From his origins, Jesus brought with him liberation. By giving birth to the son of God, Mary was liberated from her marginalization, becoming one that all generations would call blessed. Likewise, she brought liberation to those future generations in the form of her son.
The Magnificat as a song of praise reminds us to rejoice in our call to be part of God's liberating process, bringing us forth from our humble and sometimes marginalized and seemingly underqualified origins to play that part. The Magnificat as a reminder of God's goodness, we are reminded that liberation is coming, that liberation is here, should we choose to humble ourselves and accept the call.
This Christmas, rather than celebrating solely with idyllic pictures of the nativity and consumption galore, we should learn from the example of Mary, taking time to listen for our calls, rejoicing in them, and humbly accepting them.
Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with The United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.