Christmas is a comin’ and Mary sings:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.”
Not exactly a Christmas carol, the Magnificat, is a biblical song, a canticle, and it is the Evangelist Luke who puts these words on Mary’s lips.
Luke’s Gospel plays out like a pageant. Story, song. Story, song. Story, song. A familiar and lovely thought, and a sad one too. This pandemic year, when churches across the country are not likely to have one – at least not in the traditional way. (But we are going to have an awesome pop up nativity live on Zoom, December 20. Stay tuned!)
You may not know this but Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation, did not come onto the liturgical calendar of the Church until the mid fourth century. And there are nearly two millennia of traditions layered on top of the Magnificat. And as I said above, a Victorian Christmas carol, the Magnificat is not.
The Magnificat is more of a manifesto, a powerful song of divine protest, sung by a young pregnant peasant girl.
“The Lord has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
The Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.”
Yahweh’s radical justice turns the world upside down.
The Covid-19 pandemic has torn back the veil and revealed the stark economic inequality baked into our culture. The horrific deaths of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and so many more have laid bare the tragic consequences of our racial divides. Americans stand in bread lines reminiscent of the Great Depression.
As Christians, God compels us to leap into this breach, tend the wounded, mend what’s broken in his name. But first we must look inwardly and honestly at ourselves. To know our part in it. Only then can we do the work to heal this hurting world. Not alone, of course. The Word of God in Mary’s womb is our guiding star.
Ponder this: How can we, as the late John Lewis said, get into “good trouble” for God? Where can we find some Advent inspiration and motivation? Well, by singing along with Mary, of course.
There are about a bazillion settings of the Magnificat — in every human language – every musical genre. Engaging the canticle musically and not just verbally allows the rhythm, vibration and melody of the words to sink in deeper into our souls.
So, here are a dozen different settings of Mary’s Song, interlaced with a half a dozen songs of struggle and half a dozen hymns of hope: The words of the Magnificat interwoven with a musical verse from each song. Twenty-four Marian marching songs to inspire, challenge, comfort and encourage. Yes, a very different kind of Christmas is a comin’ – a very biblical kind.
You can download Magnify: A Mixtape Meditation for Advent on Spotify. Or you can watch and listen by clicking on the YouTube performance links right here.
For the homily version, we will sample one of each.
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
“Well, I’m on my way to heaven, we shall not be moved. On my way to heaven, we shall not be moved. Just like a tree that’s standing by the water, we shall not be moved.“
…and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
“I was born by a river, oh man, in this little old tent. Just like this river I’ve been running ever since. It’s been a long, long time coming, but I know, I know, a change is gotta come.“
…for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
“My father could use a little mercy now. The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground. His work is almost over. It won’t be long he won’t be around. I love my father. He could use some mercy now.“
Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed;
“Mary you’re covered in roses, you’re covered in ashes
You’re covered in rain
You’re covered in babies, you’re covered in slashes
You’re covered in wilderness, you’re covered in stains
You cast aside the sheet, you cast aside the shroud
Of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay, Mary
Jesus says Mother I couldn’t stay another day longer
Flies right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin’ his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place“
…for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
“I will bring a cup of water. here’s the best that I can offer
In the dusk of coming night, there is evidence of light
With the pattering of rain, let us bow as if in grace
Consider all the ways we heal, and how a heart can break.
Oh abide with me, where it’s breathless and it’s empty
Yes, abide with me and we’ll pass the evening gently
Stay awake with me and we’ll listen more intently
To something wordless and remaining, sure and ever changing
In the quietness of now
Let us ponder the unknown, What is hidden and what is whole
And finally learn to travel at the speed of our own souls.”
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
“Don’t you know? They’re talking about a revolution. It sounds like a whisper. While they’re standing in the welfare lines, crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation, wasting time in the unemployment lines, sitting around waiting for a promotion. Don’t you know? They’re talking about a revolution. It sounds like a whisper.“
He has shown his strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
“Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you delivered will soon deliver you.“
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
“Is there anybody here like Mary a weepin’? Call to my Jesus and he’ll draw nigh. Glory, glory, glory. Glory be to my God on high. I feel sadness slipping off of me, like autumn leaves off of tired trees. It won’t be long til I clearly see.”
…he has filled the hungry with good things,
“Battered and torn
Still I can see the light
Tattered and worn
But I must kneel to fight
Friend of mine
What can’t you spare
I know some times
It gets cold in there
When my legs no longer carry
And the warm wind chills my bones
I reach for Mother Mary
And I shall not walk alone“
…he has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
“The Angel Gabriel from heaven came. His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame. ‘All hail’ said he “thou lowly maiden Mary. Most highly favored lady.’ Gloria, Gloria.”
…according to the promise made to our ancestors,
“The Virgin Mary had a baby boy, the Virgin Mary had a baby boy, and they say that his name is Jesus. He come from the glory. He come from the glorious kingdom. Oh yes, believer! He come from the glory. He come from the glorious kingdom.“
…to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
“When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me. Speaking words of wisdom, let it be. And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me. Speaking words of wisdom, let it be. Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.“
Listen day by day or binge. Play straight through or shuffle, as you like. Listen prayerfully in silence or sing along. And when Advent is over get into a little “good trouble” for the Lord.
A blessed Yuletide to you all!
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog