For the past two weeks, my friend and fellow blogger, Rachel and I have been writing devotional-ish kind of thingies every day. So here I am again, on day 15, this third Sunday of Advent, dealing with the suggested Scripture from the Revised Common Lectionary what is commonly known as The Magnificat, or Mary's song.
For God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
-Luke 1: 48-53
As I read this passage again yesterday, it suddenly hit me. Mary was the original Nasty Woman.
Oh I know we have all these pictures of dear sweet Mary looking so beatific. And all these lovely carols about little Mary meek and mild, gently laying her child, etc. etc.
But honestly, this song, this song she breaks into when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth… there’s nothing meek and mild about it. It’s nothing short of badass, nothing less than revolutionary.
And yet, so many people are invested in having Mary be a “nice” girl. I know that’s the picture that was plastered on my brain in my childhood Sunday School classes. Humble, compliant, pretty little devout Mary, miraculously “with child” (we didn’t say pregnant in my church, of course) by the Holy Spirit. A grateful vessel, to be used by God to bring Jesus into the world.
Honestly, growing up, I was more than a little annoyed with her. Because I wasn’t always so good at being a sweet, compliant little girl, and I was constantly being told to “sit pretty,” to be seen and not heard, to stop being so loud and rambunctious.
“Lenora, be nice.”
And Mary was the poster child for nice. Since she was the mother of Jesus…she was the pinnacle of niceness.
Except, when you actually read the story, except when you hear her sing this song, and you realize how un-compliant she really was.
She was a poor, unwed mother. In a time when unwed mothers could be stoned to death. She was living in an occupied territory, with Roman soldiers camped out nearby and since rape is a strategic military tactic that has been used since the beginning of time, I suspect Mary wouldn’t have been the only teenage girl who ended up pregnant out of wedlock in her town. So what did Mary decide to do? Probably what a few other girls she knew had done. She went to “visit” a distant cousin, to keep things quiet, to keep things secret. To maybe have the baby in a place where no one knew her so she could give it away quietly and go back home and continue to be a “good girl.”
But something happened. Something changed, because she and Elizabeth – who was also pregnant with, as it turns out, John the Wild Man Baptist, talked to each other. And somehow, someway, they saw blessing instead of a curse and decided not to be so f*%&king nice. So when Mary opens her mouth to sing in Luke 1, she doesn’t sound like a meek and mild girl. She sounds like a girl who isn’t going to take this lying down. Who sees what’s happening in her world: how the poor are getting poorer, how the rich are lining their pockets, how the hungry suffer, how the assholes have taken over and are running the place. And she also sees what has happened to her – this pregnancy, the child she will give birth to – as hope for her world.
Did she know that for sure? How could she?
But she chose defiant hope over acceptance of the way things were. She chose to stand her ground, to believe in and take on God's fight for the oppressed and powerless and forgotten, everyone who’d been brought down low by the powers that be…she decided to fight, with everything in her -- with her heart, her soul, her defiant spirit, and yes, with the baby inside her that didn’t have a legitimate father, but who Mary was going to make sure was born anyway.
A part of me has always tried to be the kind of nice girl I was brought up to be. Because those lessons we get early on are hard to shake. Even if we don’t agree with them in some deep part of ourselves.
So I haven’t liked it when I wasn’t liked. I’ve often tried to figure out how to accomplish things without pissing too many people off in the process, to see the long game, play the long game.
But looking around today, at what’s going on in my country, in our world, at the storm of injustice and violence and hate that keeps piling up until it’s covering the doors and the windows of our pretty little houses, I’ve been thinking I’m not sure we have that kind of time. We need – I need - to stop being so nice. I need, I want, to actually be more like Mary – not the sweet Mary, meek and mild I was served up, but the Mary who opens her mouth and says, “I want the hungry to be fed, I want the rich sent away empty handed and the poor to be raised up, I don’t want this to be a world that belongs to the powerful, I want a world where there is justice and mercy, where there’s enough to go around.”
I read yesterday that in the 1980s during the repressive dictatorship in Guatemala, “…the public praying and reading of the Magnificat was forbidden; it was considered a threat to the state and possible catalyst for revolution.”
So maybe that’s where I start. Light an Advent candle and pray this prayer every morning in my home, and pray it at protest marches on the street in the afternoon, pray it on the phone to Congress people, sing it as I sign petitions and send money to human rights organizations and food banks and to Black Lives Matter and all kinds of groups working for justice. And maybe you’d like to join me. We can be more like Mary together.
If they call us nasty women (and nasty men) for doing it, fine. You can get called nasty for doing a lot less these days.
And perhaps if we do, if we have defiant hope and revolutionary songs and open our mouths to speak for justice, as Mary says, from generation to generation we will be called blessed.
Maybe I'll even make us some T-shirts. #NastyBlessedWoman. I’m standing by, ready to take your order.
And if you’re ready to sing Mary’s song, here is one version of it, written a year or so ago, with words pulled from Luke 1, “Holy Is Your Name,” by The Many. It starts off nice enough, and then it hits these words of promise and defiant blessing: "The proud will fall and the poor will see that all hope's not lost, and grace flows free."
Stream or download free here
Thanks for reading. During Advent my friend Rachel and I are trying to write a devotional-ish kind of thing every day. To learn more about that, read this.
This is not what I always do in this blog. Feel free to check out the archives to see what I do on a regular basis.
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