The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. - Luke 2:10-11
Mary receives an unimaginable message – become the mother of God. After the angel assures her that this is good news, she visits her cousin Elizabeth, and with her voice becomes the most constant herald in the history of the world.
There are many iconic voices in this story. John the Baptist, the shepherds, and even the angels…all pale in comparison to her Magnificat. It is read, sung, and spoken in Latin, Portuguese, English, Mandarin, Hindi and hundreds of other languages EVERY SINGLE DAY!
Mary’s song of love to God carries within it one of the most resonantly poetic, beautiful,and powerful phrases in all of scripture. “My soul magnifies the Lord.” To hear it is to want to know more about what God has done in the heart of Mary to lead her to utter such devotion and love. It gives one the impression that the Lord God has touched her deeply in her innermost being in such a way that utter faith, utter hope has secured her heart such that she moves forward in life with perfect confidence that God will accomplish not only her deepest hopes, but the healing of humanity itself.
But I believe it was not only the Spirit above but the tragedies below that shaped her voice. The voice of this fifteen-year-old is unmatched in her timeless insights. It is the power both of her lofty praise, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” and her grounded passion for God’s people, “He has filled the hungry with good things.” And in this case God’s people means those laid low by injustice, poverty, and shame.
For Mary, perhaps it was the journey to her cousin that gave her time to process the possibilities of this child and rather than ephemeral fanciful thoughts, it was rooted in human pain. Imagining the power of this child, she saw an opportunity to shape His heart. In this way Mary not only herald’s God’s words but whispers back to God through the Son’s ears.
I find myself wondering how much of Jesus’ earthly nature was shaped by His family tree in this case by Mary. If she hoped for a savior who favored the poor and the hungry wouldn’t that lead Him to do the same? If she exhibited a humble servant nature wouldn’t that teach Jesus the same attitude? Or to put it bluntly, how much of the Magnificat’s concepts did Mary drill into Jesus’ head each and every day!?
Her Magnificat seems to anticipate His life and ministry.
In calling for the hungry to be fed with good things, it calls to mind Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000.
In promising the rich will be sent away empty-handed we see Jesus send away the rich young ruler.
In looking for the day the lowly will be lifted up we see Jesus bringing respect to those denigrated by society.
Mary’s voice was not only compassionate but radical. At this time many believed that poverty was a punishment from God or at the very least a sign of one’s inferior blood. But Mary turns this view upon its head, and instead shows that rather than God’s heart centering on the powerful it centers on the poor. That is a complete and utter change.
And in New York City we have a lot of compassion, change, and work to do. The New York City Council reported “According to Feeding America, the nation’s leading hunger-relief organization, 1 in 10 New Yorkers, or 1,882,580 people, struggle with hunger, and of them 596,060 are children.” Brick is working to do its part. Through the Christmas gifts for struggling families we are collecting to the filling of neighborhood refrigerators with food, we are seeking to follow Christ’s call. It is especially important at this time of year as we celebrate joyous moments with family and friends to never forget those Jesus always remembers.
I have seen teenagers throughout my ministry with Mother-Mary-like focus and powerful heraldic voices. One asked if he could begin a weekly meal ministry in the church inviting people off the streets for a warm meal and friendship. Another petitioned Session to put a public box on the edge of our church property which people of the church filled with toiletries, small gifts, and more for families on the edge and the people on the street. Still yet another stood up at a Deacon’s meeting here at Brick over a year ago, telling them it was time to start back our meal ministry and it is going strong. And yet another at this very first Congregational Care meeting suggested we take cookies to the homebound. All of this happened because they spoke with Mary-like compassion and conviction!
We must act but we must also lift up our voice to lift up awareness around our city. The power of the herald is within us all. We may not have Mary’s unique opportunity, but we all have a chance to speak, for the human voice has incredible power to build up and to break down. Scripture tells us it is both a gift of the tree of life and a restless evil filled with deadly poison.
It is hardship perhaps most of all that hones the soul enabling it to express the depth of human experience. And because of its power a voice can even be frightening to the one who wields it. Perhaps you remember the tragic and triumphant story of Marguerite Annie Johnson. Her first years were incredibly tumultuous, she moved from place to place, her parents separated, and she lived with her grandmother for a time and then her father brought her to live with her mother. It was there her mother’s boyfriend violated her. She told others and after being released from jail a few days later he was murdered. For five long years she said not a single word, as she said, “I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone." Her biographer, Marcia Ann Gillespie wrote, “It was during this time of silence she developed her love for literature and her unique ability to observe the world around her.” Later, known as Maya Angelou, she wrote “I know why the caged bird sings.”
Like Mother Mary, she knew hardship, and challenge, and like Mary her spirit rose stronger than her tragedies and oppressors and so she too has become a herald for God’s causes.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
(poem by Maya Angelou)
The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
Freedom is Christ’s mission. Freedom from hunger, freedom from fear, freedom from shame and freedom to live in the abundant love of God. Let us herald that He comes to fill our stomachs and our souls with good things and get then busy making it come to pass. Amen.