Monday, December 14, 2015

A Total Reversal

My first real exposure to Mary's song, which is found in Luke 1:46-55, was in seminary, when I regularly took part in the service of Evensong. Called the Magnificat, her words along with Simeon's Nunc dimittis are the two canticles of the great evening office. Hundreds of composers have set those words to music, and, for two years at St. John's College in Cambridge, I heard a great many of them sung as beautifully as they have ever been sung on this earth. Initially, it was the ascetics of the moment that drew me in--the music, the choir, the chapel, the pomp and perfection of the whole experience. But, in ways I did not realize until after I had left, Mary's song had begin to sink deeply into my bones and take residence in my soul, changing my heart in substantial ways.

I cannot say when it happened--maybe it was at a Jonathan Daniels pilgrimage, when we remembered the martyr's love of those words, or maybe it was one Advent, when we heard that song during our journey toward the Incarnation--but, at some point in my formation as a Christian, the reordering of the world that Mary foretells became my life's central hope. It is the gospel manifested in the world. It is the story of salvation shone through a lens and focused on that one moment of jubilant song. It is all the dreams of all of God's people--in fact, even the dream of God himself--breaking into reality. And, as Luke portrays the good news of Jesus Christ, it is the only context we have for understanding who Jesus is and what he represents to the world.

This is Mary's song. That God chose her to be the God-bearer is the ultimate sign that God has completely flipped the order of the world on its head and replaced it with God's own priority. "My soul magnifies the Lord," she proclaims, confirming that her deepest sense of identity is itself a explanation of who God is. Her lowliness captures God's own heart in a way that reveals not only her own life's story but the story of God's relationship with humanity. God's tender love for her is actually how God works at the universal level. This moment is evidence that God is "scatter[ing] the proud in the imagination of their hearts" and "[bringing] down the powerful from their thrones" so that the lowly might be lifted up. In this moment of God's true entrance into the world, God is satisfying the deepest hunger of his starving people and doing so by sending the rich away empty-handed.

This isn't just the moment Mary has been waiting for. The song she sings declares to all people that this is the moment that all of humanity has been looking forward to for all of history. And, in her song, the action that God is taking is not a prediction of the future but a testament to the past. Even before the savior is born, God's salvation has been accomplished within Mary. Like any mother who feels the kicks and stirring of her unborn child, Mary needs no one to tell her what has already happened. For her, it is already here. For her, the time to sing is now.

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