By Steven Norris
I don’t know if you have noticed, but Christmas songs are about all you hear on the radio these days. Each of us no doubt has their list of favorites — those songs that illicit all the various emotions of the season. Likewise, Luke’s Gospel contains four songs that are unlikely to make it onto most of our favorite holiday playlists.
Advent is the season in which we prepare for the coming of Christ. Over the next few weeks, I want to highlight Luke’s four songs in hopes that they provide a different perspective on the miraculous birth that we celebrate.
The first one comes from Luke 1:46-55 and is known as Mary’s “Magnificat.” This Latin name means “magnifies” and refers to the opening phrase of the song, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” In the story, the angel Gabriel has just appeared to this young girl and revealed to her that she had been chosen by God for a special purpose.
I imagine that Mary initially had little idea the overwhelming significance of being called to bear God’s Son. Yet, her response was not unlike that of her nephew John the Baptist years later: “He must increase, I must decrease.” Mary responds to the angel’s announcement without any pretense. She betrays no inkling that she should be praised or lifted up for this awesome calling. Instead, she seeks to magnify her God who was at work in and through her.
The song makes a prophetic turn as Mary indicates three reversals that this child will bring to pass. One scholar summarized them this way:
A moral reversal: In verse 51, Mary sings that God has “shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.”
A social reversal: In verse 52, Mary sings that “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.”
A spiritual reversal: In verse 53, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
These reversals make sense when we recognize that the gospel message is a message of Good News for an oppressed people. It is hope for those whose voices have been silenced, whose futures have been limited, whose lives have been largely out of their own control. But, the gospel message may seem less like Good News and more like judgment for those situated to benefit from the status quo and its systems of inequality, injustice, and oppression. Wherever we find ourselves on that spectrum may, in large part, determine how we perceive the Good News.
The issues of our day are legion — racial divisions, abuse and exploitation of women, the role of politics and power on a global stage. As people of faith, we must wrestle with the implications of Mary’s Gospel message in both the lifting up and the tearing down. May we have the courage to align our heart and will with Mary’s: “My soul magnifies you, O God. May you increase as I decrease.”