Adapted from an Advent Study by Steve Barrington with extra material from Wikipedia and genius.com
During the Christmas season, it is all too easy to become engrossed in the sanitized, domesticated, and safe Jesus. Christmas songs, manger scenes, farm animals, adorable infants, and the pressure to buy things and spend money are examples of this in today’s culture. It surrounds us. We feel at ease since the safe infant asks truly little of us.
But even before Jesus was born, it is clear that God was working to upend the existing system and draw us into his kingdom, which stands in stark contrast to the Roman Empire and the other regional powers even today.
The Magnificat, also known as Mary’s Protest Song, is Mary’s declaration of the subversive nature of the coming kingdom and ministry of Jesus. It is the longest recorded speech by a woman in the whole New Testament. It is spoken by a pregnant, unmarried teenager who is unsure of her destiny on the fringe of the powerful Roman Empire, and it is inspired by God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, noticed the subversive nature of Mary’s song. On December 17, 1933, he delivered the following sermon during Advent before being executed by the Nazis:
“The first Advent hymn is The Song of Mary. It is simultaneously the most fervent, craziest, and even most revolutionary Advent song ever performed. This is not the Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings, who is kind, vulnerable, and dreamy. This tune lacks the sentimental, jovial, or even whimsical undertones of many of our Christmas carols.”
Mary declares in it:
With his arm, he has accomplished remarkable things, scattering the arrogant in their innermost thoughts.
He has deposed kings from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
He has sent the wealthy away empty-handed while providing food for the hungry (Luke 1:51-53).
This is wonderful news for individuals who are marginalized, exploited, abused, and abandoned, as well as for asylum seekers who face an uncertain future at the hands of an unwelcoming administration.
This is the major turnabout. But the situation is different for individuals who abuse their position of power.
These words are very upsetting, at least three nations outlawed public recitals of them throughout the previous century. These regimes believed the message of the song to be too harmful to the current ruling class.
1. During British rule in India, singing the Magnificat in church was prohibited because of its incendiary lyrics. So, on the final day of British Rule in India, Gandhi, who was not a Christian, requested that this song be read in all places where the British flag was being lowered.
2. During the 1980s, the government of Guatemala found the ideas raised by Mary’s proclamation of God’s special concern for the poor to be so dangerous and revolutionary that the government banned any public recitation of Mary’s words.
3. The junta in Argentina banned Mary’s song after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo displayed the words of the Magnificat on placards in the capital plaza Altogether, as many as 3000 adult children were kidnapped tortured and or killed.
“Mothers of the Disappeared” is a song about the incidents by the Irish rock band U2.
The news is positive for those who are marginalized but disastrous for those who enjoy power and privilege. It challenges us to live differently, re-evaluate our allegiances, and join God’s Kingdom. Sister Elizabeth Johnson aptly summarises it:
The political, economic, and social implications of The Magnificat’s revolutionary song of salvation are incalculable. Every society’s needy people receive a blessing from this canticle. All are included in the hope Mary preaches, including the beaten woman, the unemployed single parent, those without access to food or even a table, the homeless family, the young left to fend for themselves, and the elderly who are cast aside.
Today, we are invited to, like Mary and later via Jesus, see this unexpected beauty in the lives of marginalised people because it is there that we can genuinely encounter the hope of the God who descended to earth, took on flesh, and lived among us. Because Jesus came to comfort the distressed and to disturb the comfortable, as we are reminded once more.
- Barrington, S. (n.d.). Mary’s Revolutionary Song. [online] Common Grace. Available at: https://www.commongrace.org.au/day17_advent [Accessed 24 Dec. 2022].
- genius.com. (n.d.). U2 – Mothers of the Disappeared. [online] Available at: https://genius.com/U2-mothers-of-the-disappeared-lyrics [Accessed 24 Dec. 2022].