And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
I start prepping for Christmas early. At least in a pastor planning worship kind of way. Not the rest of it. I’m not the best at presents and decorations and all. I did, though, start reading the scripture listed out for Advent months ago. Advent’s my favorite season of the church year. For so many reasons about God’s presence and reconciliation and perseverance and life and beauty and hope and peace and love and joy and on and on. Probably at least half of my Advent love is that we have the chance to highlight Mary. How often does our faith story center around a woman’s experience? Sometimes women are forgotten or pushed to the side. But in Advent, Mary is key.
So in my love of all things Advent and Mary, I adore this song that Mary sings (the one listed above). Just after Mary agrees to have the baby, she goes to visit a cousin, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. They greet each other and then Mary sings this song which has come to be known as the Magnificat.
The Magnificat bears this incredible testament to God’s work: “God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly;” “God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
The problem I face every year, though, is that I always get stuck around the line, “God has brought down the powerful.” Because it just doesn’t sound true. The powerful are still powerful. There are a lot of powerful people in the world wreaking a lot of havoc. How can Mary talk about this as already true when it is demonstrably not?
So I’ve tried thinking about it using the Doctor’s terminology (you know THE Doctor, of Doctor Who fame). When we read this song and other things too, like certain passages from the prophets, we can just say that it’s “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.” As in, maybe God’s done it but the effect hasn’t reached us yet because time isn’t linear. Or, alternatively, Luke has Mary speaking in present perfect about a future event-he messed up the tenses. It’s just timey-wimey. Which is a clever explanation. But apparently not ultimately satisfying as I continue to ask the same question.
I can’t let it go because I NEED the Magnificat to ring true. I NEED it. I’m attached to this outcome. Which made a thing that happened this week notable. Unrelated to the approach of Advent, I decided to write about #metoo. It’s been a month, but #metoo continues to reveal the bad behavior of powerful men and all the people who have been complicit in allowing their behavior to continue. And I personally have felt triggered and heart-broken at these continued revelations. I’ve wanted to write something but hadn’t found a way to shape it. I landed on cheesy and wrote this sentence:
“So how about that #metoo campaign that’s brought down multiple powerful men and has the potential to bring down more?”
And then I stopped writing. Because I realized what I had written.
Through the difficult, heart-breaking work of countless women, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones.”
In the present perfect and everything.
It has happened. The consequences ring on into the present. They will likely ring on into the future.
This thing Mary said was becoming true then is also becoming true now.
It’s so right and beautiful, I keep stopping to let it sink in. #metoo, the act of women joining their voices, until those lowly ones who the powerful had ignored for aeons rose up together and brought down the same powerful. And God, who values relationship and community and who Mary declares as committed to bringing down the powerful while lifting up the lowly. One joining the work of the other, toppling the power hungry abusive ones while lifting the voices of those who the powerful dismiss and distrust and devalue.
When this work is active, a young woman’s song echoes through the ages. “My soul magnifies the Lord…he has brought down the powerful from their thrones…”
The work isn’t finished. Many powerful remain. New ones will replace the sullied ones.
But even though that is true, it is also very true that God has brought down the powerful and lifted the lowly.
We can name the toppled figures.
We can celebrate the women whose voices we have finally honored enough to believe.
And now that we have seen it in the present, why couldn’t it be true in all the other times that have passed and will pass?
I read an article yesterday about more women coming forward to accuse Roy Moore of sexual misconduct. Every woman I know has at least one story. Usually multiple. It’s never a surprise to hear it. And it’s rarely a surprise to hear who they accuse.
I hope that all the people who would benefit from such an act find the courage to tell someone their story. Whoever, wherever, whenever—I hope for you the courage to speak the words you need to speak and willing ears to hear your words. It can be transformative. It can even bring down the powerful.
I hope that if you have a story you need to speak, that you’ll find someone you trust and tell them. It’s a difficult and brave thing to do. It is also holy. Because speaking can bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. God’s work is only more readily apparent when we join in it. Carry on with God’s work, you fierce lowly ones of the world.