Each year in December the music streaming platform Spotify sends each account their Spotify Wrapped year-end report to click through. It’s exciting to get the news of the number of hours you listened to music in the past year, what your top artists and albums and most played songs were, and for which groups you were in the top percentile of their listeners. Spotify Wrapped holds a mirror up to our musical tastes – telling us where we spent our time and that we’re special, which we love to hear.
Surprisingly my most listened to song came from a Deep Focus playlist that Alli and I listened to while we typed out our final grad school papers last spring. A random Nordic ambient piano track was apparently my most listened to song of the year. But most of my Spotify top listens made sense – they were those jams that elicited joy – like the Taylor Swift tunes I’d crank up while doing dishes or a recent album from folk-bluegrass group Nickel Creek celebrating the joys of human connection following pandemic angst.
If Advent has an official playlist, a Spotify Wrapped for the season, every year the number one hit would be Mary’s song from Luke 1. This exuberant song of God’s faithfulness and revolution is the stadium anthem of Advent.
Yet Mary is not standing in front of a packed arena full of adoring fans. Mary only carries with her the good news that she will conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary only sings in earshot of her elderly family member Elizabeth and the unborn child kicking within Elizabeth’s womb and the embryo within Mary that will grow to be Jesus the Messiah, son of God.
A poor unmarried Galilean girl from the backwaters of the Roman Empire sings to her elderly cousin – both of them miraculously and scandalously pregnant – they are joyful testimonies to the fulfillment of God’s promise. And these women can’t keep quiet, they burst forth in speech and song, proclaiming God’s revolutionary good news.
On this third Sunday of Advent, how can Mary’s song also become our song? What can we learn from Mary about what it means to rejoice in the prophetic hope of God in Christ? How does Mary’s song prepare us to dance and move more freely to the rhythm of God’s justice and love?
Mary begins her song from where she is at. It’s personal to her. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant.” God sees Mary with different eyes than those of a Roman world full of masculine domination. So when Mary describes her own “lowliness” we shouldn’t minimize it as a sort of spiritual submission to God, but instead see it as an honest description of where she is at. She is a young, unmarried, pregnant, economically poor, living in a region occupied by a foreign military.
That this mighty song of joy erupts from her corner of the world makes us pause in wonder. We learn from Mary that we can unashamedly address God from wherever we are.
And we are reminded that God speaks from the margins to address us all. The ambassadors of God’s good news always come from unexpected places. It’s Sarah, an elderly woman with no children, who became mother to great nations. It’s Moses, a murderer who struggles to speak, who led God’s people to freedom. It’s David, the shepherd boy who was chosen to be king.
God’s good news takes shape in the forgotten and forsaken corners of our world. Because God does not forget, but remembers and looks with favor on all those we might call lowly. So when we hear Mary’s song, we might also ask what joyful songs continue to burst forth from unexpected places and surprising people. Songs like Mary’s will never top the charts or make it onto the officially curated playlists, where we can easily access them and listen to them on repeat – but Mary’s song continues to be out there if we have ears to listen.
So pay attention to those folks in your life who you might be quickest to overlook, and ask yourself: What song of God’s good news might their life be singing? And you, like Mary, also have a song to sing – you can address God directly, singing from your gut, a spirited song of revolutionary joy.
No one learns how to sing alone. Even Jesus would not have taught and preached the way he did in his ministry if he hadn’t grown up listening to his mom’s songs. Mary sings her song in harmony with a lineage of women in the Hebrew Bible who raised their prophetic voices to sing God’s new world into being. “God’s mercy is for those who fear God from generation to generation,” Mary sings, bringing to our minds all those who preceded her in faithfulness.
The rhythms of Mary’s song are imbued with the thumping heartbeat of freedom that inspired Miriam to take up a tambourine and dance and sing on the other side of the Red Sea, praising God for deliverance from the Egyptians, bringing the feet of God’s people through on dry ground into liberation.
The bold melody of triumph in Mary’s song come from the judge Deborah who celebrated the victory God provided.
The modulating chords of revolutionary justice that we hear in Mary’s song, build on the earlier progressions of Hannah, who after giving birth to Samuel, launched into her own praise song to the God who breaks the bows of the mighty, and fills the hungry, and raises up the poor from the dust, and the needy from the ash heap, a God who places the lowly in the seats of honor.
And that sharp prophetic cry that we hear in Mary’s song – it echoes the call we heard read from the prophet Isaiah – that the good news of God comes first to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to those in captivity and give release to folks in prison.
Mary learned how to sing in the fullness of her own voice because she was taught by her forebearers in the faith. Mary sings with all the faithful ancestors who have creatively linked their own joyful praise to God’s revolutionary work of justice in the world.
We, like Mary, can be prophets of joy, singing a new world into being. This kind of exuberant and prophetic gratitude turns us outward from ourselves to give God thanks for the world-upending good news that has come and is coming among us. Joy bubbles up in us because of Christ.
It’s fascinating here to pay attention to the verbs that Mary uses in her song. Her voice speaks, her soul magnifies, and her spirit rejoices. And then we get a whole long list of the things that God does.
God looks on the lowly.
God does great things.
God shows strength and scatters the proud.
God brings down the powerful and lifts up the lowly.
God fills the hungry and sends the rich away empty.
God helps God’s people.
Mary’s God is an active God. Our God is an active God. God is Savior, Mighty and Holy, Merciful and Strong, Help in Time of Need, One Who Remembers, Promise Keeper.
In the abstract this whole long chorus proclaiming what God does and who God is may not mean much to us. It might be the sort of boring words we rattle off in church. But sung into the gritty particulars of life the words Mary’s song mean everything.
To a young unwed pregnant woman – it is a fierce proclamation of joy – that God is doing something through her, bringing liberation and salvation to her people and to the whole world.
To anyone who is hungry or poor this song is the recognition that it is not their fault, that God’s not angry at them, but God’s angry at the messed up hierarchies of this world, and that God is doing something about it by bringing food and freedom and tearing down inequality.
To those living in monuments to their own riches and power – this song might be too dissonant to even listen to. But God tearing tyrants from their thrones and God unclenching fists accustomed to hoarding is one part of what salvation looks like.
To Mennonites gathering this coming Tuesday for a day of action singing for a ceasefire and peace in Gaza, to those of us here in the Triangle who will gather in Raleigh…Mary’s song inspires us to raise up our voices, magnifying the Might of the God who lifts up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things.
To each of us – this song is an invitation to join Mary in a proclamation of joy and hope that Jesus will be born in the world and born through us.
We sing in joy not because everything is OK and all the pain and injustice of the world has been smoothed over. We sing in joy because we have known the goodness of God and we can’t keep quiet about the revolution that has come and is coming in Christ.
We sing because we’ve learned from Miriam and Deborah and Hannah and Mary how to sing. We’ve learned how to sing because we’ve been shoulder to shoulder in song with one another at church and alongside all those ambassadors of persistent hope across the generations whose Holy Spirit exuberance could not help but burst into song.
At this close of the calendar year and during the beginning of the church year we reflect back on the songs and rhythms that have given us life and joy. And no matter what kind of music we like to listen to – we remember that it is God’s spirit that inspires every song lifted up in hope. It is God’s mercy that streams forth from generation to generation, giving us reason for joy.
So let our souls magnify the Lord and let our Spirits rejoice in God our Savior. Let our hearts sing of the day God brings!
And may our singing voices be instruments of new birth for that world of love and justice that God is building in Christ.