Hearing Mary’s Voice—and Finding Our Own
Mary’s Magnificat shows us how God helps humble people to find their voice in order to proclaim the message of God’s salvation to the world.
You could say that Susan Boyle found her voice that day at that audition for Britian’s Got Talent. The world got to hear amazing voice loud and clear, and ever since then she has been using her voice to bless the world with her music. Some of the Christmas songs playing before the service were from Boyle’s Christmas album.
The God I believe in is a God who helps people find their voice so they can bless and serve the world with the good news that God loves the world, and that he showed that love in a very concrete way by sending his son Jesus Christ as the supreme model of love and the Savior of the world.
Our scripture passage today is a classic example of one of those people whom God helped to find their voice. It’s known as Mary’s song, or the Magnificat, named after the word “Magnify” that Mary uses in the first phrase of the passage.
Here we see Mary, a young teenage woman from a humble background proclaim loud and clear the message of God’s salvation upon learning that she was going to be the mother of Jesus, the Savior of the World.
How did this sudden transformation happen to Mary? How did she find her voice to be God’s messenger and speak with such boldness, such passion, such rejoicing?
To put it simply, Mary was chosen by God for this task. Mary didn’t earn God’s favor through earthly titles or power to play this role; no, it was an act of sheer grace on God’s part.
And like so often happens in God’s way of doing things, God writes the history of salvation through unlikely people who don’t have much status in the eyes of the world.
The apostle Paul acknowledges this when he writes to the church at Corinth: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1:27)
Think of how Simon Cowell and the other judges as well as the audience reacted when first seeing Susan Boyle up on that stage. Eyes rolled. Heads turned. Snickers came out of mouths.
But then when Susan Boyle opened her mouth and they heard her angelic voice, they were put to shame, and their response turned to “wow, this is amazing”! There was probably an outbreak of goosebumps that spread through that concert hall.
This is the kind of response we get when we learn the story of Mary and then hear the words of the Magnificat come out of her mouth. If we would have been in that room along with her cousin Elizabeth,
I can imagine that we too would have been amazed and filled with goosebumps. I mean, that happens to me even now whenever I hear this passage read.
A few years ago there was a devotional in the Mennonite World Review by Meghan Good. Meghan is currently the teaching pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, AZ, a church that I served on the pastoral staff of several years ago.
The title of devotional was “Lowly raised to leading roles” and it reflected on Mary and her role in bringing God’s salvation to the world.
Meghan said this in the devotional: God will speak through those whose voices have been silenced. God will reveal truth to those least expected to know it.
In the culture of Mary’s day, women’s voices were rarely allowed to be heard outside of the home. And that silencing has continued for centuries, and even though women have made up so much ground in recent years,
Even today we are reminded that there is still work to do for women’s voices and perspectives to be respected to the same degree as those of men.
We saw an example of the degrading of women by men this past week in an article written about future first lady Dr. Jill Biden.
Journalist Joseph Epstein wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that questioned Biden using the title Dr. before her name.
The title of the article was: ‘Is there a Dr. in the house? Not if you need an MD’. And he goes on to say
“A wise man once said that no one should call himself ‘Dr.’ unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc,”. He also referred to her using the condescending word “kiddo”.
As you would expect, Twitterworld erupted with criticism of the article. Biden herself weighed in, and in a gracious tone said Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated, rather than diminished. Amen!
I’m grateful to be part of a church denomination where women’s gifts are valued on the same level as men’s, where your gender doesn’t prevent you from using your gifts to serve the church in any capacity.
When we think about it, what better person to proclaim God’s message in the Magnificat than Mary? I mean, she embodies the kind of upside-down Kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate on God’s behalf:
A humble woman proclaiming how God will scatter those who are proud;
A person considered near the bottom of the social ladder proclaiming how God will bring down the mighty from their top perches of their thrones;
A peasant living a meager existence proclaiming that the rich will be sent away empty-handed and people who are poor like her will be filled with good things;
I mean a director couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate person for this role than Mary; she was type-cast for it, she was a perfect messenger for this message.
It was a promise of Emmanuel, “God with us” who would come to earth and ransom captive Israel as they mourned in lonely exile at the hands of nations who pushed them around like pawns on a chessboard.
It was kind of like the children’s play this morning—who could have communicated the true meaning of the Christmas story better than they did!
For hundreds of years the people of Israel waited, they longed and ached for this vision to become reality. And now with the coming birth of Jesus the Messiah and Savior, the prophecies are being fulfilled.
These are radical words that can be dangerous to proclaim where there is injustice and imbalance of power, where there’s a huge gap between the rich and the poor, and this has been the reality in our world since the beginning of time until now.
E. Stanley Jones was a pastor and missionary to India during the first half of the 20th century. He left such a legacy that he is known as “the Billy Graham of India”. Jones called the Magnificat “the most revolutionary document in the history of the world”.
In the same vein, William Temple archbishop of the church of England warned British missionaries to poverty-stricken India not to read the Magnificat in public—he said it could lead to rioting in the streets.
But throughout the history of God's people there have been those like Mary who have had the courage to speak up for those whose voices have been silenced,
There have been people of faith who have dared to work to build a more just world, often with great sacrifice,
There have been Christians, sometimes working alongside people of other faiths to alleviate hunger and poverty and human suffering in the world, giving generously of their time and their resources.
Many have been unlikely people like Mary who at first doubted if God could really use them. But they accepted God’s calling on their life, and they found their voice to magnify God by allowing God to use them to bring peace and justice and healing and and love to those around them.
When Karen and I served as mission workers in Bolivia in the 1980’s, there was a young woman named Juana who was the oldest child of a family who started coming to our church.
Her father was a humble carpenter who could barely eke out a living to feed his growing family. Juana and her 8 other siblings lived in a wooden shack which was basically one big room.
Juana ended up becoming a mother before she had planned to, and was left high and dry by the child’s father. At an early age, Juana faced more setbacks and challenges that most of us will face in a lifetime. And there were times when Juana barely had the will to carry on with life, let alone be of any service to God.
But God had plans for Juana, and put his calling upon her life. And through God’s grace and the support of many people who believed in Juana, she found her voice to nurture the needs of her family and also rise up as a leader in our congregation.
And now, decades later, Juana is a missionary in her own country, giving support and encouragement to little churches out in the countryside, and serving on the leadership council of the national Mennonite Church in Bolivia.
Her day job is working at on the grounds of the Mennonite Central Committee offices in Santa Cruz, doing laundry, preparing meals and providing wonderful hospitality to all who walk through the gates of MCC Bolivia.
To Karen and I and to many others, Juana is an inspiration, a modern-day Mary who magnifies God with her life, serving others with joy and the love of Christ.
Seeing Juana’s life and witness reminds me of a quote that a friend once told me, which says “God doesn’t call the qualified, but qualifies the called”.
I believe that every one of us has been called by God in some way. Every one of us has a role to play in magnifying God through being messengers of God’s peace, and hope and justice and healing to the world. Sometimes we don’t feel qualified.
And maybe we don’t have it all figured out yet who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do. In some ways, it’s a lifelong journey of discovery.
But we can begin somewhere, right now, with what we do know, with the things that we are passionate about in our heart and the opportunities that are in front of us. We can still find our voice, even if it just starts out as a whisper.
I realize that it’s 2020, and we have all been through a year like no other. I’ve never been so ready to take down this year’s wall calendar and put one up that says 2021 on it!
That will be the year that we will all get the COVID vaccine and things will start to return back to some sort of normalcy, right? We certainly hope so!
In a year like this one has been, it’s natural to shift into survival mode and just get by, hang on, take care of our own needs, turn inward and instead of magnifying God turn inward and look at all of our problems through a microscope.
And yes, we do need to practice self-care and care for our families’ needs right now.
But at the same time we are living in times where racism is rearing its ugly head and there is a need for voices calling for racial justice,
We are living in a time where political tensions and division need to hear voices of peace and reconciliation,
We are in a time when food lines are longer than any time in recent history, where people are feeling lonely and isolated, and despair threatens to consume them.
And there is a tremendous need for people who can fill the hungry with good things and the lonely with companionship and the despairing with hope.
We are living in a time when the promise of a Savior and all that he brings needs to be magnified now more than ever.
Last Sunday Hija Yu had a wonderful message where she challenged us to rejoice always, even during times like the ones that we are going through now.
In the Magnificat, we hear Mary say, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, right after she says “My soul magnifies the Lord”.
So you see, rejoicing and magnifying go together, they go hand in hand. When we magnify God with our words and our lives, we can’t help but rejoice and live with joy.
And living with joy naturally leads us to a life where we magnify and glorify God, where our lives proclaim the good news of Christmas that the Savior has come into the world.
St. Irenaeus way back in the 2nd century said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive”. I believe that what he is saying is that we become fully alive when we find our voice and joyfully respond to God’s calling on our life.
So let us rejoice in the coming birth of our Savior, let us magnify Jesus and glorify God, let us come alive for the sake of a world that is longing to experience the love and joy and hope of Emmanuel, God with us. AMEN.
Thank you, God, for the powerful message of hope in Mary’s words in the Magnificat. Thank you for choosing Mary to be your messenger, for empowering her to find her voice to share this message of good news with the world.
May Mary’s example and the example of others who have proclaimed your good news inspire us to find our own voices to speak out and reach out to those around us with he message of Christmas that Jesus the Savior has come into the world. AMEN.