NOTEworthy December 13

Magnificat in G – Charles Villiers Stanford

My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden: For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me: and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him: throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel :
As he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen.
Canticle of Mary

Mother Mary. The most famous female figure of the Bible, and of the Christian Church. As a protestant, I have always felt slightly uncomfortable talking about Mother Mary. It’s as if by talking too much of Mary you will be accused of idolizing her – or worse, being Catholic (gasp!).

But Mary is a central figure to our Advent Journey, and her journey in this time is ours as well. And in that vein, I think it is worth practicing a little long distance empathy with our Advent heroine.

She is scared.

She is with child and engaged to be married. In these times, these things are certainly not meant to be concurrent states. A woman, and particularly a woman in Mary’s situation, had few rights. She could be kicked out of her father’s house, left penniless and without connections. She could be dishonored and have her engagement with Joseph broken off. She could be stoned, or even sold into slavery.

In fact, had an angel not appeared to him as well, we know that Joseph would have broken off the engagement, had it not been for an angel appearing to him, too (Matthew 1:19).

What strikes me in this list of horrors that could have befallen Mary is that all of this hinges on that one word that defines so many of her titles – Virgin.

The virginhood of Mary is often seen as a justification of purity culture, or as a theological necessity in order for Christ to be sinless, or even just as a way to show that she followed the rules the way she was supposed to.

But there were a lot of obstacles facing the Virgin Mother. She was young, naive, unprepared, facing judgment and potentially exiled for this child she was expecting. And amidst it all, she said “All generations shall call me blessed.”

Notice, too that we don’t get a big backstory on Mary in the gospels, either. She did not heal the sick or prophesy in God’s name – she was a nobody. The entire Magnificat text is about how God has lifted her. She did not earn her spot by being the holiest woman in the world – she was given a gift.

God made something where there was nothing.

In fact, he made the greatest something from nothing. No matter how green, or naive, or close to nothing we may feel, God can use us. The work of Christ is not limited to the holiest 1%, nor is it even a position that can be earned.

And though we know the work of Christ is to lift the lowly, it is worth acknowledging that sometimes the work of lifting the lowly is lifting yourself out of the doldrums of feeling useless.

He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.
Psalm 40:2

He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor;
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
And He set the world on them.
1 Samuel 2:8

Andy Eaton
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church