Monday, December 16, 2013
It's a first century equivalent of the Pregnancy-Scan Facebook post. The Magnficat is a remarkable song. Named for its opening words in Latin translation, in English translation the pregnant Mary sings: My soul magnifies the Lord.
Download mp3: Mary's song.
The song, though speaking of the baby Mary is carrying barely mentions the pregnancy, though it's subject is "God my Saviour" who is indeed the baby in her womb.
God steps into her world, like Vik Muniz stepping into the world of the workers at the Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janerio (in Lucy Walker's film Waste Land). Artist Muniz introduced hope and inspiration to the lives of the workers at a vast landfill site. Is that arrogant interference or presumption to turn up in someone else's world? Or might it be the very best thing that could happen. What happens when Jesus steps into this world?
The God who became one of us
Its a song that captures the essence of the Christmas story in which God comes to us. It's opening words are full of exhuberance and excitement. Is this classic power-play religion? Fundamentialism seeking to whip up a crowd? Where is the British reserve and understatement?
Yet, this is the excitement of a woman at the end of the line in the Roman empire, a pregnant teenager from a poor background. She has no power to wield, only the fruit of deep and careful reflection on her culture and her Scriptures, her song hits many of the notes of Hannah's song, the another young woman 1000 years previously.
Mary quite likely couldn't read or write but she'd evidently meditated deeply on the purposes and promises of God.
She calls for God her Saviour to be magnified... not in a magnifying glass because he's small.. but in the same way we magnify the blazing light of the sun by opening our curtains in the morning. Letting it's light into our lives.
The opening stanza is about the God who has come to her and seen her humble estate. A God she characterises as Holy... holy not in the sense of distance and otherness but holy as humbleness and humiliation. This God her Saviour is in her womb, a baby. Not just come to be with her in her low position but to be born as a baby, weaker than her, utterly dependent upon her... God with skin, God who cries...
I spoke with someone recently who told me about how moved he was by Michelangelo's statue of Mary, not holding baby Jesus but holding the crucified Jesus. He commented that though he wasn't religious, and is deeply committed to maintaining a deeply scientific approach to life....and yet he had been moved by this white carved marble... and inanimate object reflecting something deeply poignant. How do we explain that affectedness? What we can know is that Mary foresaw that - she knew that God her Saviour would be both helpess baby and crucified man.
Come with power in utter weakness to us in our weakness. Come to find us in our weakness, with our questions. Come to meet us where we are. Try Facebook's Year in Review tool - has it been a good year, a bad year? It picks out the most engaged with things you put on facebook this year. That means it reflects the happiest moments... and the most painful. Are you where you planned to be? Have you fallen off the tracks? At the end of the line? And it's not just circumstantial, at times we're culpable for our position.
Our created grandeur marred and broken by the deep problems in our hearts and in the world around us.
The God who challenges us
Mary's child isn't just for the weak, but also for the high. Those like Johan Sebastian Bach who in 1723 put Mary's song to music. The second stanza speaks of how Mary's Child will scatter the proud, dethrone those who elevate themselves and take down the rich. He knocks us off the high places on which we put ourselves... In his death he will put that presumption that I know how to run life to death...
I'm no Bach but as a child of my time and a member of Adam's helpless race I believe in myself, think highly of myself, feel that I have much to contribute. I stand opposed to Mary's child.
And Mary's Child comes to me in my self-agrandising and brings me down... from my faux greatness to his real humiliation in lowness. He knows what it is to leave the throne and be made low... and he brings me low with him so I can be filled by him. He asks of me what he himself has done for me... he does the work, I need simply entrust myself to him, follow him into life.
A cold statue, a talented artist,... and much more Mary's child, interupt the course of our lives. Presenting us with different questions and a different direction in life. Mary's song is a song about Mary's child, the extraordinary one who comes in utter humility that disrupts our lives. Cry Magnificat!