I initially wrote this blog post a few days before Christmas Eve. I worked on it for a while, and it just kept getting longer and longer and longer, and I put it on the back burner because I couldn't figure out how to end it. But every time I would reread it, I loved it so much that I couldn't just abandon it altogether. It's been sitting in my Drafts for almost half a year, and I read it the other day and knew I had to post it. So here it is: originally intended to be a Christmas post, but I think this story is perfect all year round.
If you're like me at all, there are certain passages of Scripture that you like the idea of, but for the love of God, you cannot get your head around them.
That's how I've always felt about Mary's song in Luke 1.
It's been a staple of the liturgy for centuries, and it's an essential part of the Christmas story, but for the life of me, I've never been able to get my head around it.
Magnificat anima mea Dominum.
My soul magnifies the Lord.
In the days before Christmas Day, my daily Scripture readings included this section of Scripture, known in the Church as the Magnificat. More recently, with the passing of the day the Church commemorates the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, I've revisited Mary's song.
I think the first step in wrapping our fingers around something hard is to admit that we don't understand it.
Then our minds are opened, and we look away from the narrowness of what we think it should be and toward the kaleidoscopic, multicolored horizon of what it can be.
I like to understand things.
But I wrote down that I didn't get this.
A lot of songs of praise seem like humble brags.
The speaker is praising God for the way He has cast down the rich and more fortunate in favor of the poor or the underdog -- and the underdog is usually the speaker.
Maybe it's not a humble brag at all; maybe it's just boastful, bald and frank. The speaker is rejoicing that they have won. That God picked them.
We all do that. It just doesn't feel acceptable, especially not in the Bible.
Especially not in the meek mother of God.
The Roman empire.
I can imagine the vitriol that the Jews spewed behind their overlords' backs. I can imagine that some of them spit at the Roman soldiers' sandals when they weren't looking. Maybe even when they were looking.
Those would be the zealots.
I imagine that even in Nazareth, the tension was thick and cracked, like the brittle, caked dirt beneath their feat.
Judea was a lighted fuse, and it was only a matter of time.
Four hundred years of silence.
The prophets had spoken the words of God, and then -- nothing.
Some had started to wonder if they needed to take matters into their own hands.
Again, those would be the zealots.
They had had so many overlords. Babylon. Persia. Greece. And now Rome. Each one worse than the last.
The line of David was hidden, and the king that reigned in their place was the dog Herod.
Somewhere, there had to be Jews that only acknowledged the line of David as their kings, wherever those kings were.
They were waiting for one of them to rise up. For anyone to rise up.
To be their king.
To make them great again.
There was blood. There was violence. There was incessant uprising, and the Jews and Herod and the governors and Cæsar himself were all sitting on a powder keg.
And in the middle of all this tension walked a little Jewish girl.
Maybe about fifteen years old.
She was nothing more than property in the eyes of both Jews and Romans.
She was nothing, only to be given away.
But she had eyes, and she could see.
She saw the violence in the street, the creases around the eyes of the men as they watched and waited in wary silence.
The Jews had been silent for a long time, and so was she.
She was silent, and she waited.
She was silent when this man came to ask her hand in marriage. What was the alternative? He was a good man, he was noble. She could do no better, she told herself.
She had no currency, no power, nothing to say.
What would she have said?
That was her life: silence and tension, filling all the cracks of her days. Seeping into the space between her work and her play.
I mean, she had to play. She was a girl.
But not for long.
She was getting married soon.
The tension soaked into her days as if it were water in a sponge.
It colored all her days with the harsh light of high noon.
I imagine her bright eyes flicked here and there and noticed everything --
The way some of the young men of Nazareth paced restlessly back and forth, a zealot's gleam in their bold glances.
The way her mother pursed her lips.
The way her father looked at the tax collector when he came to town.
The way her fiancé Joseph looked quietly out of his carpenter shop and watched, too.
I'm not really sure when it happened.
I like to think that she was in the middle of doing laundry. Hanging it on the clothesline outside, where it flapped in the wind.
And I don't know whether there was a flash of light.
All I know is that she was alone -- and then, suddenly, she wasn't.
A man stood in front of her.
And something about him was different.
His face shone. So did his clothes.
Something inside her whispered -- knew -- this was supernatural.
I imagine that she dropped to her knees.
I wonder if she looked around to see if anyone was there to protect her. This was a strange man, after all.
Her father. Joseph. Anyone.
Hello, there, favored one.
The Lord is with you.
I imagine that her mind spun with alarm. What kind of greeting is this?!
Don't be afraid, Mary. You have found favor with God.
How does one even respond to a statement like that?
Think about it. A messenger from God appears from nowhere and tells you that you are favored by God.
The silent One.
He had been tacet for so long, a seemingly impersonal force on the edges of their vision. He was the outline of the circle that was their world, but He was so, so far away.
Did He even care about them anymore?
Did He even notice?
These were the questions the Jews had been asking for so long.
And now, suddenly --
You have found favor with God.
I imagine she asked herself, How?
Luke tells us she was greatly troubled. No kidding.
You will conceive and bear a son.
I imagine her first reaction was to say, "Hold up -- what?"
But she didn't.
You will name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.
And suddenly, everything changed.
She knew what that meant.
The prophets had foretold Messiah, and he had not come.
There was one hangup.
"How will this be," she ventured, "since I am a virgin?"
I imagine she was wondering what Joseph would say. What he would think.
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy --
The Son of God.
I'd like to imagine that those words rang in Mary's mind like bells. Clear, silvertine, resonant, like a drink of water on a desert day.
She had seen her share of desert days, both literally and metaphorically.
How long had they waited?
How long, O Lord?
The messenger must have sensed her hesitation. Must have felt the fear breathing on her shoulders. He continued: Your cousin Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age, and the world thought she was barren -- and here she is, in her sixth month.
For nothing will be impossible with God.
I imagine the girl's heart surged. That her spine straightened. That her voice was quiet, but firm when she said, "I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be to me as you have said."
Maybe there was a rush of wind, and maybe there wasn't, but the messenger -- the angel -- was gone just as he had appeared.
I wonder if she expected a difference right away. If she touched her stomach and wondered if the child was within her even then.
When there wasn't an immediate, noticeable change, I wonder if she got nervous. Wondered if she had done the right thing. Wondered if someone had been pulling the wool over her eyes.
I wonder if, for just a second, she thought, What have I gotten myself into?
I wonder if, just for a second, she doubted.
She remembered that the messenger had told her about her cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were old -- and yet, they were going to have a son?
Maybe Mary thought that if she saw Elizabeth, saw that she was pregnant, too --
Maybe the messenger was right.
So she went. We don't know what the journey was like. I wonder if anyone went with her. Her mother, her father. A friend.
But when she walked into Zechariah and Elizabeth's house and went to hug her cousin, Elizabeth cried out.
I wonder if Mary stopped short. I imagine her eyes were wide. She was already feeling fragile enough.
Elizabeth's hand went to her obviously pregnant belly, and she met Mary's eyes. I wonder if she was crying tears of joy.
Blessed are you among all women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
I wonder if Mary was shocked. How did Elizabeth know? I doubt she had told anyone. How could she?
I wonder if she thought, So I AM pregnant.
Elizabeth went on: And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.
To all of Mary's wonderings and hopes and uncertainties, she felt a resounding answer: YES.
It resonated in her heart. In her fingertips, like metallic sound waves made of gold.
In her belly.
And something welled up inside her.
Out of all the women in the world, of all the places, of all the people groups, Jehovah had picked a youngster from the nation of Israel -- possibly one of the most trod-upon nations in the history of the world.
The ones who were crushed by their Roman overlords.
The ones who hadn't heard from God in four hundred years --
And she, she was the one to hear the voice of God, and He would tell her He was listening after all. Had always been listening.
She was a girl, she was poor. She was property. She was vulnerable and mistreated and passed from hand to hand like an oil lamp.
Anyone could do whatever they wanted to her.
I wonder if she walked around Nazareth in fear of the Roman soldiers. I wonder if their eyes ever followed her young body, if she drew her cloak closer around her narrow, girlish shoulders when she walked past. If she was afraid to go out at night.
She was the dust of the earth --
Now. God had spoken to her first of all, and He had told her she would give birth to His own Son.
She was carrying God around with her in her womb.
She was the house of God.
She was hallowed ground.
She, Mary, the poor, dusty girl, the daughter of who knows, Jewess from nowhere -- she was walking around carrying God inside her small body.
Light with a capital L had literally entered her. I wonder if, after a while, it started to shine out her eyes.
Magnificat anima mea Dominum. My soul magnifies the Lord.
And she started to sing.
I wonder if Elizabeth grinned at the way her young cousin's spine straightened, at the way her voice carried when she spoke with the strength of her gut, chin tilted slightly up with the voice of courage.
I wonder if the song had a tune, or if it had all the guts and boldness and edge of a spoken-word poem at a poetry slam.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
For He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For He Who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His Name...
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
I wonder if she meant the Romans. The Greeks, the Persians, the Babylonians, the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Egyptians -- all the enemies of Israel from the dawn of their nation. All of Jewish history rolled itself out like a carpet at the sound of her words, and she spat upon the backs of their enemies who jeered at them, because look at what God had done. Was doing right then.
... He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
I wonder if she thought, Me. She was no longer poor, no longer destitute. She was full, she was abundant, and she was exalted. From nothing she had been raised to be the bearer of God Himself.
Bearer of the Light.
He has helped His servant Israel,
in remembrance of His mercy,
as He spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
Y'all, this is a victory song.
Mary rejoiced that God had picked them, had picked her.
In a world dominated by foreigners and full of the choking dust of tyranny, God had picked the least likely person to show them that He was mightier than their overlords.
That He cared.
Mary's entire life was a testimony that God cares.
Her entire life was an adventure. Boy howdy, was it ever. An unmarried, engaged girl gets pregnant and says it's a child from God? You best believe it's an adventure, as well as drama for Nazareth for many years.
I wonder if she became a pariah. I am sure she did. But I don't even think she cared, because she knew that she had won in the end. That she was vindicated.
That God had picked her.
And that was all she needed. She was victorious, she was adventurous, she was vindicated -- she was brave, and her courage was rewarded.
I don't really know how to end this post. I've been trying to end it since December 2016, and I just cannot figure it out.
I think that might be because this story doesn't really have an ending. Not really. We're still living in its aftermath.
Because we all know what happened. Mary was brave, and her courage changed the course of history, because we all know who her Son was. Is.
So I don't know how to wrap this up.
All I know is that if we say yes to God, we will never be the same. We will be whole and more ourselves. And we will be victorious, because God is victorious every. single. time.
Magnificat anima mea Dominum.
And then those words will be our cry.