By Nancy Hastings Sehested
Mary’s Magnificat is dangerous. Be prepared. If you dare pray this song within earshot of the powerful, you may jumpstart some trouble. Mary’s song was banned from singing in churches in India during British rule. It was banned in Argentina in the 1970s by the military junta. In the plaza of the capital city, the Mothers of the Disappeared wrote the prayer on placards as a rallying cry for non-violent resistance. God has brought down the mighty from their thrones.
Just when major forces of power were needed to topple the cruel might of the throned in the Roman empire, a divine messenger was sent to a young unknown woman in a small village. The angel Gabriel told Mary that she was favored by God to have a baby. It seemed like no favor. Mary was “deeply disturbed” by the news. Unwed mothers could be stoned to death.
Gabriel also mentioned that her cousin had just received the same news. The aging Elizabeth had given up praying for a child. The young unmarried Mary had not prayed for a child at that time in her life. Yet both were pregnant. The same news that released one woman from shame sent another into shame. The angel left his calling card with the words: With God nothing is impossible. Mary made her way to see Elizabeth who could surely understand shame as well as impossibility.
In that risky time and place, the women caught courage from each other. The communities that claimed and shamed them did not name them. The disruption in their lives was coursing through their bodies with hope. Their small story was embodied within the grand story of God’s breakthrough of new possibility. These are the disciples we follow in these troubling times.
Mary reached back a thousand years to a singer named Hannah, a once-barren woman who sang praise to God for her newborn baby. With some creative reimagining Mary made the words her own, as we all must do with the songs and stories given to us.
Neither meek nor mild, Mary boldly sang. Her soul magnified the Holy One for choosing her. Then the words moved into past tense. God has shown strength. God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. God has brought down the mighty from their thrones. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich empty away.
God has. Hope has a memory. Hope looks back in order to look forward. God has brought enslaved people out of Egypt. God has led the exiled ones home. God has acted and surely will again. Yes. And God is lifting up the once-thought lowly ones. And God will. God smuggled hope into the world through the body of an unlikely woman. Such a miracle kick-started a transformation of love and justice that is still changing us.
In the recent trip to Montgomery with over a hundred Alliance people, we experienced the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Together we lamented the violent history of racism in our country. Together we saw the deep roots of white privilege and power that continues to perpetuate racial injustice. Together we said a strong yes again to God’s birthing of new life through us as an antiracist organization. Our soul magnifies our God for choosing us for this daring call of impossible possibility. Michael-Ray Mathews, past president of the Alliance, sang the holy tune with these words: “This new possibility requires uncommon encounters, profound disruption, sacred reimagining, and prophetic actions.”
Mary’s song has tumbled down through the centuries. This is not just a prayer song for Advent. It is a year-round prayer for all of us yearning for the advent of God’s new order.
Let’s light a candle and pray. We will be joining religious communities around the world who sing Mary’s song daily at evensong just as darkness approaches. May we invite this song to breathe life and courage into us, disrupting us with God’s surprising re-ordering of power. May we know deeply the embrace of God’s mercy from generation to generation. May we reverberate in every part of our being with trust in the promises of God’s reign.
Mary is singing our song. Let’s sing it with her with all that is within us. New life is coming.
Nancy Hastings Sehested is a retired pastor and a founding member of the Alliance of Baptists.