Mary Sang: Faith & Possibility
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Luke 1:46-55 (The Song of Mary)
I don’t know about you, but if I were Mary, I would have been terrified. She’s just been visited by the angel Gabriel who basically told her, “Greetings! You have found favor with God, so God has put a baby in you!” Gabriel thinks this is good news because he doesn’t have to deal with the ramifications of being an unwed pregnant teenager. He doesn’t have to deal with the sideways looks and rejection. It’s a rough situation for Mary. She is not only a teenager, she is likely a young teenager—somewhere between 14 and 16. A ninth or tenth grader. In our eyes today, she’d be a girl. She’s a Jew in Roman-occupied Israel, a poor girl whose future depends on her marriage prospects. And an out-of-wedlock pregnancy does not help those prospects. In fact, in the gospel story from Matthew, Joseph is about to bail on Mary until an angel comes to reassure him.
We celebrate Mary now, but if she were in our midst today, she’d be a young girl wearing baggy clothes to cover her baby bump, withering under the looks of pity or judgment coming her way. Her parents might have pulled her out of school to spare her—and themselves—the shame. Maybe her very confused boyfriend is standing by her and has agreed to raise the baby with her, but they’re both so young. They had plans for college, but that’s all changed now. They have a baby on the way.
If we’re being honest, God put Mary in a pretty tricky situation.
She could have despaired. She could have been terrified. She could have been angry that God thrust this on her. And maybe she was feeling all of those things. They’re perfectly appropriate reactions to that situation.
But what did she choose to do in that situation, even in the face of her fear and anger and uncertainty?
She sang. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
In the eyes of our capitalist culture that values production and efficiency above all things, singing is a pointless endeavor—unless you’re a very good singer and your music can be commodified and sold. Singing is totally unnecessary. If you have information to share, you can just say it—or better yet send it in an email or text so your information doesn’t take up so much space.
But we all know better than that. You’ve heard me mention over and over again how much I miss singing in our sanctuary with all of you. We know that singing is so much more than the conveying of information. We can say all the words to O Come O Come Emmanuel, but when we sing them, we feel our longing for God in our whole bodies.
Singing is a way to slow ourselves down and really inhabit not only the words we’re saying, but the way we’re feeling. Singing is a pause in itself. A reflection. Making way for joy or anguish or whatever is on our hearts. Singing is a spiritual practice.
And Mary sang. She sang about who God is and what God does for people who are struggling.
This was her spiritual practice when she was confronted with the greatest uncertainty of her life. We don’t know why she sang. Maybe she sang to really feel all of her feelings. Maybe she sang to assure herself of God’s plan for her life. Maybe she sang simply to pause, to make space to just sit with this intense experience.
I like to think that she sang to reframe her situation: to move from anxiety about not knowing to recognizing what might be possible. To move from a desire for certainty to an openness to whatever God has in store.
The Magnificat is a pause. It’s a break in the story. In this first chapter of Luke where the song appears, it’s all narrative. This happened then this happened then this happened. Elizabeth conceives John the Baptist, then Gabriel gives Mary her “good news” and then she goes to visit Elizabeth. The story could have moved straight into Elizabeth giving birth and then the story of Jesus being born, but it stops so that Mary can sing. So that she can prepare herself for things she cannot even imagine.
It’s what we’ve been doing as a community every night at 7 p.m. We don’t sing, but we gather on Zoom for just five minutes to pause—to light candles and pray and be in silence together. It’s our community’s way of answering the Advent call to slow down and prepare the way. It’s a time to let go of whatever plan we think we have for ourselves and let God take the reins.
Because God comes to surprise us. That’s what the Song of Mary tells us.
When the Israelites thought they were entering a land of milk and honey, God sent them into the wilderness to learn what they needed to learn before coming into their inheritance.
When the Israelites needed a champion to defeat Goliath, God sent them a shepherd boy with a slingshot.
When the Jews expected a mighty conqueror to come and defeat their colonizers, they got a baby born to poor parents in a manger.
And even when that baby grew up, he didn’t consort with the rich and powerful and build an empire, he ate with sinners and tax collectors, and let prostitutes wash his feet. He touched lepers, wept with those in pain, and fed the hungry.
When we think we’re getting one thing, God sends us something or someone we couldn’t possibly imagine.
Mary paused to make room for possibilities she couldn’t even imagine.
We pause to make room for possibilities we can’t even imagine.
The Gospel of John says “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” When God speaks, the word doesn’t become fact, it becomes flesh and lives and moves and surprises us.
Our faith is not one of certainty, it’s a faith of possibility. It’s why we don’t just speak, share facts, treat the Bible as a mere rule book, and move on. No, we sing, we pray, we sit in silence. The Word becomes flesh in us.
Advent is a time to pause, to reflect, to imagine possibilities. To prepare the way for someone who will come and surprise us over and over and over again. Amen.