Mary’s revolutionary Magnificat
A Reflection for the Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent
“Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home” (Lk 1:56).
Most women in the Gospels are silent. They are so silent that the fact that we get any prayer at all from the mouth of Mary is something to treasure. The fact that it is a prayer for revolution is something remarkable.
The fact that we get any prayer at all from the mouth of Mary is something to treasure. The fact that it is a prayer for revolution is something remarkable.
I was recently on a podcast hosted by two women writers who grew up evangelical, and one of them mentioned that in her childhood, when they would read or talk about the Magnificat, they only paid attention to the first half, about Mary’s humbleness.
If that is all you ever knew of the Magnificat, that Mary is blessed, that would be fine and sweet. It also contributes to the same silencing of women’s voices that leads to centuries of oppression. When you read the whole prayer, you see that the kingdom Jesus will usher in is completely different from one in which women like Mary, or any woman for that matter, do not have a voice.
When God lifts up the lowly, God lifts up those who are silenced or sidelined or victimized by violence. When God casts down the mighty, God makes room for stories to be told by those who could not tell them in the past. When God scatters the proud, God makes room for the humble, and those who are humble are often those who have been hurt.
Centuries of women have felt the hurt that Mary felt and that they haven’t been able to give voice to that pain. But Mary can. And Mary does.
We certainly know Mary was hurt by judgment and name-calling and rejection and later the pain of losing her son. We know centuries of women have felt the hurt that Mary felt and that they haven’t been able to give voice to that pain. But Mary can. And Mary does. And her vision of the kingdom is not a vertical structure with a few at the top and everyone else at the bottom. It is the opposite. This is what God wants, and Mary gives us the language for that.
We also know that when Mary was rejected, people also made room for her. Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months. What did they talk about? Not knowing this is frustrating, to be sure. But at this time of year, I think of the everyday conversations I have with my mother, sisters and friends, the ordinary moments of crowding into living rooms and packing into cars and talking, talking, talking that Covid-19 has robbed us of for so long. Just a chat, just a conversation, between people who are just women, but who, like Mary, might also be creating a new world.
Get to know Kaya Oakes, contributing writer
1. Favorite Christmas Song
“In the Bleak Midwinter.” It doesn’t snow in the part of the country where I live, but I love the imagery (and the melody by Holst), especially for those of us who tend to get melancholy around this time of year. It is a reminder that in our darkest hour, we still have something to give.
2. Favorite Christmas Tradition
My husband and I always watch the episode of the TV show “Northern Exposure” where Chris builds a giant light sculpture and the First Nations community shows us light coming into the world through the story of the Raven. Why isn’t that show on streaming yet?
3. Favorite Christmas Recipe
Ginger, cardamom and black pepper cookies based on the Blue Bottle Coffee recipe (add an egg!).
4. Favorite Article You Wrote This Year
I’ve had nothing but a giving and grace-filled reception to my essay from April on barrenness and what it means to be a woman without children.
5. Favorite Christmas Photo
This Peruvian nativity scene was the first one I bought as an adult. It’s from my friends’ store in Oakland and reminds me of them at Christmas and of starting our own traditions. Also the llama looks suspicious and always makes me laugh.