In today’s Gospel story, we hear Mary & Elizabeth sing from their hearts the call and response of hope in a troubled world. Mary has just realised who the child she was carrying was and was filled with wonder and fear. Wonder that she was to be his mother, and fear as to the consequences for both of them and their family in a world waiting for a warrior king to depose the occupying forces.
As a result she withdraw from her daily village life and sought solace and solitude with Elizabeth in the hill country. Elizabeth was also pregnant ad about to give birth to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus and the one who would mentor and teach Jesus. The future would have looked troublesome and precarious to both women and they spent much time together reflecting on where God was and what God was doing.
The kinship and relationship these two women feel is signified by Elizabeth’s exclamation Luke places at their first meeting, ‘as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.’ Luke connects both as bearers of ‘Good News’ and also connects John & Jesus as co-creators of this ‘Good News’. Right from the very beginning they are one in what they are here to do.
Luke’s Gospel presentation of the ‘Virgin birth’, Andrew Prior suggests, “is not intending to present us with a miracle which contradicts biological truth and necessity. We make a category mistake if we believe he is even thinking about biology. He is presenting to us the intervention of God in our world; the filling of people with Holy Spirit. It is all to set the stage for Jesus’ birth and subsequent ministry.”
Mary’s song is a song of revolution, and like all revolutionary songs it calls for the reformation of faith and story and a whole new way of living that story.
The birth of Jesus is the writing of a new story on a blank slate. Mary epitomises a humanity free enough to let go of expectation and past baggage and to allow itself to be written anew. While her song sings the story of Israel and the future of humanity as found in the freedom coming from the innocence to believe in the possibility of hope.
How we need Mary’s innocence to day. Without such innocence we will continue to live in fear of the other; to look askance at those who believe, dress and worship differently; to demonise those whose understanding of relationships, ways of life and engagement world is different to ours. More men, women and children will die in refugee camps, bombed hospitals and schools, as a result of domestic violence and gun crimes unless we begin to sing Mary’s song.
Stan Grant, in his excellent article, “The politics of identity: We are trapped in the imaginations of white Australians” dealing with search for identity within in the indigenous community, points out:
“Our struggle is too conveniently positioned as peculiar to this country. But the politics of identity are an international phenomenon – confusing and contradictory – heightened by the rush of post cold-war globalisation, the advance of new technology and the changing currents of geo-politics.
Patriotism, xenophobia, ethnic nationalism, sectarianism are among the many reactions to an increasingly homogenised and globalised world.
Look around us.
Islamic State has surpassed al-Qaida’s deadly ambitions, appealing to a brutal, radicalised, and selectively distorted Sunni Muslim identity.
In every corner of the planet people are questioning who they are. Is allegiance to state? Religion? Tribe? Politics?
Vladimir Putin has ridden new waves of popularity in Russia by crafting a comforting narrative of Soviet nostalgia coupled with military adventurism and intervention.
This has spilled over into the civil war in Ukraine, where the country is split between those who identify with greater Europe and others with allegiance to Moscow.
North Koreans are still defined by an unfinished half-century old war with the United States. As they construct a nuclear arsenal, and march in goose-step, they look dismissively at their cousins in the south and proclaim themselves as the true Koreans.
The Chinese speak of a 100 years of humiliation, the nation’s resurgence countering a history of foreign domination and exploitation.
The European Union – designed as a reaction to the continent’s bloody 20th century – is mired in mistrust and suspicion fuelling the rise of identity-infused extreme politics of the left and right.”
The situation expounded by Grant and experienced by each of us as we search for ourselves in this world finds hope in Mary’s song, the writing on a clean slate. Interestingly Mary’s song is not sung as a plea for something better. It is the pronouncement of the Good News which has always been present. Her song is sung in the past tense; she sings that this has already happened and now we are entering the place where each of us, in the power of self-sacrifice and the indwelling Spirit, can live out in the present what has always been here.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 48for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Here is our faith’s song line, Mary picks it up and sings into being justice, freedom, hope and peace. In call and response she is joins with Elizabeth and their babies within, and they now call to us across the ages to join them to sing in the Hope of the World this Advent.
The challenge Mary gives us is; are we innocent enough to sing her song in our relationships with other, in the way we shop and travel, in who we support and favour and in hospitality and welcome to those different in age, gender, race or creed? Are we able to connect to the forever story so as to sing the story into the present and teach others to sing it into the future, long after we are gone?
Our only hope is to sing heartily! Amen