This is the song that Mary famously sings as she magnifies God for the opportunity to birth her own liberator into the world. It is a powerful anthem that gives a clue into indeed what child this is.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he 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.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
The intense, and clear, political and economic connotations of the song are often overlooked during Christmastime as many Evangelicals celebrate their personal savior or simply forgo the political message of the season in favor of more marketable, commercialized ones. But to any reader, plainly reading the Magnificat shows us that the birth of Jesus will indeed turn the whole world upside down.
The song starts with Mary confessing her lowliness and her oppression, which God has freed her from because God has selected her. Mary is available to be filled by God because of her oppressed, lowly posture. Mary isn’t taking a position of humility, she is forced to it. Mary doesn’t need to self-empty because she is empty. She’s oppressed and she needs liberation; thus she can receive the incredible charge to birth Jesus into the world. She considers herself favored, blessed, as one for whom great things have been done for.
She worships God who has finally arrived through her to liberate her. This God will enter the world with strength, scattering the proud, in contrast to uplifting the lowly. The proud here are the powerful, the ones with authority, the ones with political influence, the ones with money. Jesus arrives to scatter them.
He brings the powerful down from their throne. He lifts up the lowly. He changes how the world works, how it operates. He reorders the earth, and he does so through his very person. This baby is going to bring down the mighty. Jesus enters into the world in the lowliest position himself to reorder it. His very presence as this baby Messiah changes how we worship, how we relate, and how we act.
The song keeps going, he fills the hungry with good things. This is an explicit economic implication of the song. This isn’t metaphorical, it’s explicit. This emptiness isn’t just about feeling alone, or feeling inadequate, or insecure – though it is about those things. It’s mainly about economic destitution and how Jesus changes that. Don’t miss that meaning, don’t fill it with something else that does not challenge our current circumstance. This is about a present political liberation that we get the courage to engage in because of the promise of future political liberation.
That liberation that Jesus brings, that we are invited to enter in, is painful. This is why there is a Christian instinct to de-politicize the apparent political connotations of the Gospel. Too often, it is the ruling class – the wealthy, the white, the male – that interpret the Bible, and so they do so in a way that confirms their own biases and keeps them in power. They cannot endure the pain that following Jesus actually costs them, so they invent another meaning. They refuse the plain reading, and instead anachronistically psychologize the text, claim it is not political but rather spiritual or religious (never mind that the Bible makes no distinction between the religious and the political), or they turn the song into some self-help guide.
We want to avoid the pain of birthing a revolution so much that we barely even realize that Mary actually went into birth pangs, the agony of labor, to birth Jesus in the world. Some traditions even suggest it is heretical to say that! That’s why I love the image at the top of this blog post because even though the people should be brown, it shows us the reality, the messiness, of birthing a revolutionary baby into the world.
This work that Jesus invites us in this promises to be painful, just like labor. Mary reminds us that it hurts to end oppression. It will hurt the oppressors, it will feel unloving, it will feel cruel. But we cannot organize around the feelings of those who need to be sent away empty instead of those who are filled with good things. The cost of discipleship is high. Jesus’ way is difficult, even impossible, for the powerful. But what is impossible with mortals is possible with God.
This work will be painful. Mary praises God for seeing her, for liberating her, for finding her favored. But many people will rebuke those crying out about their lowliness, their pain, and asking for liberation. Mary appeals to God for her liberation, though, not to her oppressors, who are likely to see her as a rabble-rouser or a troubler of the peace. They gaslight her, victimize her, accuse her of power-grabbing. But Mary follows God, not the people around her that make her doubt her revelation. We need the courage of Mary to stand up to the pain that our oppressors cause us, that liberation threatens to cause them.
Birthing a revolution is messy. It’s painful. It’s full of tears and blood. It’s hard work. But there’s no going back. Jesus is arriving in the world. Christmas is coming. Mary will be liberated, and Mary promises us liberation, as we await in our own Advent. Let’s brace ourselves for the inevitability of the pain that comes. Lord knows, I need to know that pain is real, because the journey to making a predominantly white institution antiracist has been the most grueling of my life. Yet, we will persist because Mary did, because God is faithful, and because Jesus will be born.