Mary’s Song of Joy

Mary’s Song of Joy

Mary Visits Elizabeth
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Mary’s Song of Praise
And Mary said,

   “My soul magnifies the Lord,
      and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
   for he has looked with favor on the lowly state 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;

Luke 1:39-49 (NRSVUE)

I remember the first Christmas that I served as the pastor here in Oldtown. I announced that on the third Sunday of Advent when we light the candle of Joy, we would be celebrating “Mary Sunday,” and I invited anyone who felt so moved to bring their favorite picture or statue of Mary to put on our altar. Several people brought the Marys from their Nativity sets at home or the pictures of Mary that their Catholic spouses or parents had.

Friends, the truth is, as Christians, Mary is such an important piece of our story, but as Protestant Christians, many of us bristle over the “Mary conversation” because it feels too Catholic. Some struggle with the story of a virgin birth or think that others show excessive devotion to Mary. But to me, Mary is simply a beautiful example of someone living out her faith, of being humble, of listening to her heart and to God’s Still speaking voice, and looking at life, no matter what struggles it brings, with an utter sense of joy, and appreciation.

Mary is also the one who brings music into the conversation. In today’s reading, when Elizabeth greets Mary and acknowledges her as blessed and the baby that she is carrying as sacred, scripture says that Mary sang out with joy! Mary’s song, which we heard a piece of in our scripture reading this morning, is called the Magnificat. The word Magnificat literally means “My soul magnifies the Lord” in Latin, which is the first line in Mary’s song.

Now this is the point where we can get dragged down the religious and biblical rabbit hole, searching for all the facts and proof of exactly who Mary was, what happened to and through her, and why and how she did what she did. But my friends, faith is not about facts, figures, and proof. Faith is about feelings, emotions, and sacred experiences. It’s about believing in things that we can’t prove and trusting in what our hearts tell us is true.

For me, faith has never been about having all the facts. On the contrary, it’s about being drawn into the beauty of the story. And then, each of us, in our own unique, individual, and humble way, makes the story our own.

Friends, can’t you imagine how excited Mary was that day when she arrived at Elizabeth’s house and found that Elizabeth understood what was going on? Mary had been hiding this news from everyone. She carried the weight not only of her pregnancy but of the world’s judgment and ridicule. She kept silent because she knew that no one would understand, and no one would ever accept her. With Elizabeth’s greeting, Mary must have thought to herself, “My goodness, someone finally understands! And I now have a safe place to name what has happened, to claim the blessing as my own, and to rejoice in the beauty and majesty of it!” Friends, can you imagine the release, the freedom, and the safety Mary suddenly felt? So, of course, she sang out in joy! Because she no longer felt lost, afraid, and alone.

Music connects us in such a deep and meaningful way. Depending on the song, we can instantly be filled with joy or sorrow, excitement, or a desire to go to sleep. This past week, my granddaughter called to sing me her new favorite song, “Jingle Bells.” And friends, let me tell you, there is no way to feel anything but joy when you hear an almost two-year-old sing Jingle Bells. I sang along with her, and she seemed shocked that I knew the words! The only time I disappointed her, however, was when I didn’t yell, “Hey!” loud enough at the end. But don’t worry, she stopped me and made me go back and do it again, the right way.

As Eliza and I went through our repertoire of songs, as we do every time I see her or she calls me on the phone, I thought about Mary. Scripture tells us about the Magnificat, the song that Mary sang when she was filled with joy for being blessed and chosen by God, but I wonder what other songs Mary sang.

I remember, as a child, we used to always sing in the car when we were going somewhere. So I wonder, was there a song that Mary sang as she and Joseph traveled the eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem? Or was there a song she hummed as she swept the floor or cooked dinner? I’m sure she sang to Jesus as an infant as she rocked him to sleep or to teach him things as a toddler or a growing child. Though the Magnificat is well known and recorded in scripture, I wonder what other songs Mary sang and who taught them to her. I wonder what she sang when she was happy, when she was sad, or when she was trying to figure things out.

For me, thinking about Mary’s songs makes her more than a statue, a perfect saintly portrait, or a prop in a nativity set. It makes her a little more “real.” And when I imagine Mary as a real, honest, humble human being rather than a perfect porcelain statue or painted portrait, it makes the story even more beautiful, pulling me in and opening the door to even more mystery, wonder, and joy!

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, imagine that Mary is walking along with you. What will you talk about? How will you react to the world around you? And what songs will you sing with her? Spend some time not worshipping her but sharing sacred conversations, allowing her and her story to become even more genuine and grace-filled as they meet you and your story. Because if and when you do, you might find that your heart begins to sing as it overflows with joy, too.

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!


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