At my church this week, I am speaking about Mary’s Song from Luke 1. The German pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote:
‘This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings… This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. The song of Mary is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary advent hymn ever sung.’
In the Gospel According To Luke, Mary is said to have sung a song of praise that reflected her deep, profound, personal faith in God and revealed her joyous and jubilant appreciation of his great faithfulness to her as a person.
‘My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His Name. His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation.’ (Luke 1.46-50)
Mary celebrated her experience of God as a God of justice, who has overthrown the rich and the powerful and upheld the poor and the powerless. Stanley Jones said Mary’s Song is ‘the most revolutionary document in the world’.
‘He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in the plans of their hearts. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as He said to our fathers.’ (Luke 1:51–56)
William Barclay states that the song ‘speaks of the three revolutions of God’: a moral revolution, a social revolution and an economic revolution.
Mary says God’s first revolution is a moral revolution: ‘He has scattered those who are proud in the plans of their hearts’.
And, when he began his mission, her son Jesus advocated a moral revolution, embodying a spirit of humility, vulnerability and sensitivity. He said: ‘whoever humble themselves as a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18.4).
Mary says God’s second revolution is a social revolution: ‘He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble’. And when he carried out his mission her son accentuated a social revolution, turning the system upside down.
One day Jesus sat down with his twelve disciples and he said to them, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all’ (Mark 9.35). Jesus insisted on this, he said, because ‘it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest’ (Luke 9.48).
Mary says God’s third revolution is an economic revolution: ‘He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.’ And, when he realised his mission, her son articulated it as an economic revolution, meeting the needs of the poor rather than catering for the whims of the rich.
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. But, woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry (Luke 6.20-21,24-25).
‘Chains shall he break’
The only carol I know that reflects this revolutionary message is O Holy Night, whose original third verse (often not included in modern versions) goes like this:
‘Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is Love and His gospel is Peace; Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, And in his name all oppression shall cease.’
May it be so.
Dave Andrews lives in Brisbane, Australia and is a community activist, author and speaker.