December 6

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…
God has shown strength with God's arm,
and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

--Luke 1:46-47, 51-53 (NRSV)

This is a portion of the song Mary sings during her pregnancy with Jesus. It is an improvisation of the song Hannah sang after the birth of her son Samuel. The words have been set to music countless times, but my favorite setting is John Rutter’s Magnificat. The year that I found my way back to Christ, as a young adult, our church choir presented that glorious work in worship, and the rehearsals were a deep spiritual discipline for me. The soaring, joyful melodies provided the ideal soundtrack to that homecoming, to that first Christmas season back in the church.

It was only years later, when I was able to read Mary’s Magnificat without Rutter’s festive score ringing through my head, that I fully realized: the Magnificat is not a sweet lullaby.

It is a battle cry, bold and defiant.

Mary sings for the weak and the lowly, the poor and the hungry. Every hurting son is now her son; every hungry daughter is now her daughter. Before, they were simply among her; now, they dwell within her. And the song erupts from that place deep down where she carries them, where she bears them in her own body.

It is not necessary to be a mother, or even a parent, to feel such empathy. But one of the gifts and curses of pregnancy and motherhood for me is that I sometimes experience the pain of the weak and the lowly and the hungry and the hurting on a physical level. A cellular level. I never did before.

Something terrible happened recently to the loved one of a loved one, a beautiful and brave young woman. I dare not say what; the story is not mine to tell. The details are unimportant anyway, because it’s a story of violence that’s repeated daily around the world, a story that many beloved women in my life share. I will not tell their tales, but I can sing a song for them. And the song that I sing asks, begs, demands that God be strong in the gathering and the filling and the lifting up.
The day I found out about this terrible thing in the life of my young friend, my husband and I had tickets that night to see the Indigo Girls in concert. I carried this young woman’s story, and the stories of countless others, as I went.

Those of you familiar with the folk duo probably know that die-hard fans usually have a “favorite” Indigo Girl. As for me, I have always preferred Emily Saliers’s songs to Amy Ray’s. Emily’s seem more interesting musically, more delicately textured. Her lyrics operate on many levels and are especially ripe with biblical images. Amy’s songs are more straightforward. They are linear, direct, sharp like an arrow. Both women write powerful songs. Emily’s songs are powerful in their beautiful complexity; Amy’s, in their defiance.

So Emily is my favorite, but that night, Amy was singing to and for the women whose stories I carried in my body, whose pain I felt. Amy sings the Magnificat the way it is meant to be sung—thunderous, proud, piercing the soul.

“I saw a woman on the sidewalk…
she was beaten by a stranger.
(Danger Danger Danger Danger).”

Amy holds the audience rapt. She is singing their song.

“Let it ring
in the name of the man that set you free
Let it ring
And the strife will make me stronger
As my maker leads me onward
I’ll be marching in that number
So let it ring
One day we’ll all be free
Let it ring.”

Our secular culture’s way of doing Christmas clatters noisily against the church’s quiet observance of Advent. While radio stations play cheerful holiday tunes 24/7, we dare to sing, “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” Why do we bid the savior to come? Not to create some false dramatic buildup to December 25 (will the baby arrive again this year? of course he will, and right on time too). No, we bid the savior to come because we still need a savior. The world still needs healing and hope. The stories of hurt, violence and oppression that we carry within us remind us of this reality. And so, we sing. Defiantly, expectantly, confident in the God who shows strength and mercy, in hope for the day when all will be free, we sing.

We sing to you, O God, and to the Savior for whom we wait.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Come for the sake of a wounded world.

--Reverend Mother


Blogger Ivy said...

I like your Advent site, very helpful will visit it regularly.

(on a practical note though: although it shows the pictures up well, I do find white print on black background very hard on the eyes and difficult to read easily and comfortably.)

12:31 PM  

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