Mary & The Revolution

Luke 1:46 – 55

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 forever.”

That song has been called The Magnificat. It is the song of Mary the Mother of our Lord. It was first sung 2,000 years ago when Mary, who is pregnant, makes a visit to her cousin Elisabeth who is also expecting a child. It is a joyful meeting of these two mothers-to-be. And in response to Elisabeth’s greeting, Mary breaks out into a song of jubilation.

            “My soul magnifies the Lord,
             and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

When Luke tells us of the Christmas story he fills his record with hymns of all sorts.

  • In this same account there is the Benedictus sung by Zacharias, “Blessed Be the God of Israel
  • There is the Nunc Dimittis sung by the aged Simeon, “My Eyes Have seen your Salvation
  • And of course there are the angel songs, “Glory to God in the Highest.

It is obvious that an event is taking place that is so momentous, that heaven and earth feel compelled to break out in singing!

Mary’s song is a song of exulting praise. It reminds us of the Song of Hannah found in I Samuel 2:1-10.  Both are songs of gratitude and deep thanksgiving. Both are songs of exultation.

But the question must be raised, WHY do these feelings erupt from her?  You would think that puzzlement and hesitancy would be the mood. But instead she is filled with joy, joy because she knows that the long-dreamed of revolution has begun.  Many in Israel looked for redemption, and Mary was one of them.  She was not a mindless peasant girl, but a person who knew that the shape of the world was all wrong, and needed fixing.

There was a need for a revolution in that world.

Violence, greed and tyranny flourished in that ancient world just as it does in ours!
The curse of hunger was always crouching at the doorstep of the common people, just as it does now! It was a time when Rome was trying to rule their world and levied crippling taxes on the peoples of the subjugated nations.   It is no error that the birth of the Christ took place precisely at the time when the entire world was to be taxed at higher levels than ever before.

Her world was a world filled with military oppression. Soldiers of Caesar & of Herod and of the religious establishment manned the streets of the towns and villages.  In that world might was right, vice was rampant, and men and women were enslaved under a variety of tyrants.  It was a world ripe for a revolution. And Mary knew that one was needed. So moved by the Holy Spirit, she sings her song of triumph.  E. Stanley Jones & William Barclay both note that this revolution includes three big changes for the world. (I am indebted to them both for some of what follows!)

She sings of Moral Revolution

They remind us that she sang a Song of Moral Revolution. In her song she sings, “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.”  In her vision, the ones filled with self-sufficiency have been deposed.

Oh, there had been many revolutions before. There had been many so-called Messiah’s before. But all they had been able to do was free their particular friends from their external enemies. But none had been able to save from the inward enemy. Usually the revolutions merely shuffled the masters, where the previously dispossessed now became the new overlords. But none had come to deal the deathblow to pride.

But that was changing. Mary at this point may have had little idea of the scope or depth of the revolution, but when Jesus begins to minister his words very quickly remind us that he has come to deal with arrogance of heart.

Blessed are the poor in spirit….
Blessed are the childlike….
Blessed are those who serve…

The towel and basin will become the symbols of a new age. He has come to bring a moral revolution.  A revolution of love, rather than law.  A revolution of faith that overcomes fear.

She sings a song of Social Revolution.

Wm. Barclay also reminds us that she sings a song of Social Revolution. For there is need, not only of an inward revolution there is need also for a social and political revolution. The heart must be changed, but the world also must be changed.

So Mary sings, “He has brought down the rulers from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble.”  Even before her son speaks the words in the Sermon on the Mount, she understands that “the meek shall inherit the earth,” while the powerful and the mighty will be left out.

Paul will later support Mary as he tells us that “not many mighty, not many noble” are called to the Kingdom of God, but those who have no power, that have no strength; they are the chosen of God to create a new way of living.

She sings a song of Economic Revolution

Barclay & Jones also remind us that Mary sings a song of Economic Revolution. For the revolution must penetrate every level of life. It must begin in the heart, it must affect the social order, and it must reach down and affect the economic life of persons and nations.

So Mary sings that, “he has send the rich away empty, while the hungry are now filled with food.”     

In simple words Mary tells us that God has acted to bring about a great reversal. The world has been upside down for too long with only the few prospering and the many suffering. Jesus has come to turn things right side up. That is why it was said of the early apostles, “those who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” The poor had gotten so used to the world standing on its head, they did not realize that Jesus & his followers had come to turn the world right side up.  Mary is sensing that the moment has arrived when the great reversal begins.

It has taken place in her own life already. She has been an obscure peasant girl: raised in Galilee, no pretensions to fame or fortune or even happiness. But something has happened that has changed her life forever and she sings in amazement. “He that is mighty has done great things for me… from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”

The revolution has already begun in her, and that is the pattern of what is to happen to all of life.  A few years later Jesus will declare the same as he speaks to his followers in the Sermon on the Plain: recorded in Luke 6:20-28.

Blessed are you who are poor.
Blessed are you who are hungry now.. .
Blessed are you who weep…
Blessed are you when persecuted.

But, woe to you who are rich.
Woe to you who are well fed…
Woe to you who laugh now…
Woe to you who are well spoken off…

The Time Frame for the Revolution.

There is no doubt that Mary, and Jesus, and the early church saw that this great act of God sending His Son was to bring about a revolution. But when does this revolution take place?

Notice the tenses of the verbs that Mary uses.  It is very- strange. She consistently uses past tenses. He has done… he has scattered… he has brought down… he has lifted up … he has filled the hungry… and so on….

She must be mistaken. Just look at the circumstances in which she finds herself immersed. Arrogant Herods are still enthroned and will cause Mary and her family to run for their lives. There are still Caesars and Pilates around who continue to administer injustice. The poverty of the world is as deeply entrenched that day as it has ever had been Religion is still in decay and will continue to rule by moralism rather than compassion.

She must have made a mistake. She should have sung her song in the future tense.  The arrogant will be brought low… The hungry will be fed; the powerful will be dethroned… one day, someday in the future…

But is Mary mistaken? Is this mother-to-be in error? Has she used the wrong tenses?

Ah, No! She is not wrong! God has already done something so decisive that the defeat of wickedness stands guaranteed.  In the moments of the conception of the Christ child within Mary’s womb, the back of sin and Satan and death and hell have been broken. The victory has been assured.

The Second World War conflict had been going on for 5 years. It looked like a stalemate. Both sides were losing and winning battles but the outcome of that war was anyone’s guess.

But the allied forces devised a plan. They amassed 3 million men, 16 million tons of munitions, 9,000 ships, 11,000 aircraft. These were all placed on the east side of England.  Then on June 6, 1944 Europe was invaded and the beginning of the end took place. That day of June 6, 1944 was known as D-Day. Decision Day. It was the plan that this act would swing the fortunes of the conflict to guarantee the victory of the allied forces.

The war in Europe did not end for another 11 months, and the war in the pacific did not end for 15 months. When the war in those two theatres did end they were known as V-Day. Victory Day.   But as far as the records indicate the war was really won on D-Day. V-Day was guaranteed by what happened on D-Day.

And Mary knew that D-Day had taken place already in the conception of her child. V-Day was only matter of time. The victory had already been won. The revolution had already begun and its conclusion guaranteed!  It would not be externally evident for some time, but Mary knows that in the conception of her son the victory had been won. And so her song is one of triumph.  It is a song of faith, and not wishful thinking. He that is Mighty HAS DONE great things.

This is the reason that during this season of the year we sing our songs. This is why it is a season for celebration.  We declare to our world that Christ has come. And it is only a matter of time before the victory of Christ will be evident in all of life.

But where does all of this leave us? As we approach the year 2017 we still must live our lives between D-Day and V-Day.  Jesus the Christ has won for us the decisive victory. Therefore … we live our lives, not in anxiety, not in fear, not in despair; but in assurance and certitude. We do not wonder about the outcome. We face the evil within and evils without, in glorious hope, that even these things can be changed.

And we are called upon to enter the days ahead and a new year, living by faith that “he who begun a good work among us, will continue it” until the end of history.

So how shall we live?  As fellow revolutionaries of the Son of God. We take seriously our part on the moral revolution of our times, and the political and social revolution, and the economic revolution of our age. We renounce personal safety as our prime goal in life. We commit ourselves to live life as risk takers, in solidarity with Mary & Joseph, and with Jesus and his followers.