Casting Down the Mighty and Lifting Up the Lowly

The Gospel for today’s Mass is the beautiful and poetic Magnificat of Mary contained in St.Luke’s Gospel. As I once heard a priest say in a homily, however, don’t be fooled by the poetry or the sweet melodic music to which the verses are often set.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian-martyr executed by the Nazis, described the Magnificat this way in a sermon during Advent 1933:

The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here. This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.

Mary lived in a world of tremendous income inequality. A world in which a significant percentage of the population lived in a a cycle of exploitation and poverty. A world in which the people longed for justice and fairness.

Mary’s Magnificat offered a message of hope then, expressing solidarity with the marginalized. It also offers a message of hope today…a message we need to hear in our world today: the message that God is still at work, even in the midst of poverty, war, suffering and heartache. The Magnificat is a revolutionary song of salvation; a song that promises that changes can and will happen through the grace of God.