This season, it's not only in church that we hear a Magnificat

Gordon Stewart
Gordon C. Stewart: Her voice cannot compete in volume. But in its clarity, it drowns the mighty choir out.
Submitted photo

The Rev. Gordon Stewart is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska and a source in the Public Insight Network for MPR News.

In other cultures and other times, the young woman would be called a peasant. But here and now she is a protester, one of the dwindling numbers of ragged young people on the government plaza. She moves among the Occupier sleeping bags and protest signs in the cold of winter, singing her song of hope and joy.

She makes no demands, which is confusing to some. Hers is a different way: a bold announcement that the old order, symbolized by Wall Street, is already finished. Her purity and her message are impervious to the games of demand-and-response that serve only to tweak and tinker with the old systems of greed and financial violence.

She simply affirms the great new thing that will come to pass. To her it is more real than much of what she sees.

A song like hers is being sung this season in churches throughout the world. The song rejoices in a new world order about to be born. The "same old, same old" world, the one defined by who's up and who's down, by social pride and social humiliation, by the overfed and underfed, by extremes of extravagant wealth and poverty — that world is over. The mountains of greed and pits of desperation are brought down, and up.

The song that we hear in church is the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, a composition of the Gospel of Luke. It has special meaning to Christians, who believe that Mary bore in her womb the savior of us all. But the Luke story also serves as a metaphor for the compassionate character of a new society about to be born.

"My spirit rejoices in God my Savior," sings this peasant girl living in the time of the Roman Empire's foreign occupation. She is full of the one who "has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts," who "has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up those of low degree," the leveling God of mercy and compassion.

Imagine with me for a moment an opera house. In one corner of the stage stands Mary, her tender voice softly rejoicing in the hope growing inside her. At the other end of the stage stands a massive choir, in tuxedos and gowns, thundering in its hymn of praise for the market, for greed, for the preservation of the status quo.

"He has filled the hungry with good things," the girl sings, "and the rich he has sent empty away." Her voice cannot compete in volume. But in its clarity, it drowns the mighty choir out.

As Mary's Song is read in the churches this Sunday, some anonymous girl will slip unnoticed into the back pew. She will listen to the reading of Luke's Magnificat, and she will hope, like Mary, that the world will hear its message.

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