Not long ago I started a series (which quickly fizzled out due to my burgeoning ADD) about protest songs. I may or may not get back to writing it regularly (Look! A bird…), but I thought it might be cool to highlight one very special song during this season of Advent. You can read the lyrics from the NIV here, as I have opted for the KJV (used in the Book of Common Prayer) for poetic reasons.
My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:
for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him
from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm;
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats,
and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.
This song is, of course, the Magnificat of Mary the Mother of Jesus. During her pregnancy, Mary left her hometown of Nazareth to visit her cousin Elizabeth (herself pregnant with the baby who would become John the Baptist). When Mary arrived, John started turning somersaults in Betsy’s womb, and Mary burst into song. It was quite a scene!
The political climate in first century Judea was pretty messy: Herod “the Great” was king, but instead of being an advocate for his people, he collaborated with the Roman Empire to subjugate them. There was incredible discontent on the part of the people, both politically and spiritually — these being quite wrapped up in one another in the ancient understanding of “life.” What had happened to God’s promises to make Israel a great nation? Nothing but foreign rule for hundreds of years…what the heck? The prophecies about a coming Messiah had become the one glimmer of hope for many oppressed and downtrodden people.
Then along came this little girl from a no-name hick town, leagues away from the action and expectation. She received a startling message: she had been chosen by God to bear and raise His very own Son, who would be the long-awaited Savior. She wasn’t clear on the details, but she didn’t blink or stutter or equivocate when it was time to accept or reject the mission. “I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say” (The Message).
Fully cognizant of the political and spiritual reality of the times, Mary sang a song of protest, a song of joy.
“The disestablishment of unjust powers and the establishment of just powers is how God is being faithful to the Abrahamic promises…Mary’s friends undoubtedly lifted a toast when Mary sang this song. ‘It’s about time!’ they all said when their jugs hit the table” (Scot McKnight, “Christmas is About the Poor”, Dec. 10, 2006).
A Savior was about to be born — He who would establish true justice, scatter the proud, bring down rulers, send the rich away empty, lift the humble and fill the hungry with good things.