I find one of most special, most blessed parts of the Advent/Christmas season is the singing of carols and popular holiday songs. It’s wonderful to turn on the radio, crank up spotify or deezer, or youtube channels, pandora radio, or even commercial radio stations, and listen to the music for hours on end. The COVID pandemic has put a crimp into our beloved habits of holiday singing, caroling, the traditional vespers service. We have had to modify the children’s pageant and we’ve toned down the Christmas eve lesson and carols. It’s put a sad dent into the season, has it not?
The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote: “Next to theology I give to music the highest place and honor. Music is the art of the prophets, the only art that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”
Luke’s nativity contains a lot of singing. Mary hears that she is going to be a mother and during her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, she sings the amazing song we call the Magnificat as it is known in the Latin, or “glorify, make great, make known, revealing” in English. When the angels announce the birth of Jesus – they sing. When the shepherds saw the child in the manger - they sing. When Jesus is dedicated in the Temple, the priest Simeon and the prophet Anna sing praises to God. Jesus is welcomed in song. What a wonderful way to welcome a newborn baby, with song.
Mary song is solidly rooted in the writings of the psalms and prophets: she actually quotes parts of five psalms in her song. She mirrors Hannah’ song, the mother of the prophet Samuel who sang praises to God in 1 Samuel 2. So, in every line of her song, this illiterate girl proves that she knows scripture. The stories of her people are deep in her bones and come alive.
Mary’s song is not only a song about God’s justice, God making things right for us, but also a song of history, because in her, she acknowledges that the promises God made to her people’s ancestors, Abraham, Israel, would be fulfilled – fulfilled she proclaims in her son. Mary sees herself connected to her people to the past, and to those of the future, who would see that she indeed was blessed by God. The God of the past, present and future come together in Mary’s song. No wonder Mary’s song, known as the Magnificat, as is its title in Latin, became one of the most well-known religious canticles in western history. It is the song that helps us celebrate Mary’s “yes” to God, prepares us for Jesus’ birth. In Mary’s song we find an invitation to say “yes” to God as well, in join the chorus in these final days as we countdown to Jesus’ birth.
That’s what great songs do, throughout our lives --if we take the time to find the songs that speak to us. Those unique songs that echo in our soul. They connect us to the past, to our ancestors’ voices, as we sing these powerful carols and songs of the season, we find our voice, “in the hopes and fears of all the years” as the “Little Town of Bethlehem” reminds us.
I recall the story how in one particular African tribe, the tribe gathers to sing the song of life to an individual. Whenever a crime or a serious anti-social offense is committed, the person is called to the center of the circle and expected to admit to the transgression. Then, the village sings their song of life to the child within the person. In this way, it is believed poor behavior is corrected by reminding the individual of who their real self in the Creator's eyes. You can no longer be confused, lost, alone and depressed. When you know your song of life, you have two obligations: The first is to find people who have a similar song and sing it to each other. The second is to pass this wonderful custom down to the next generation. In this way we support our brothers and sister in their walk, and we provide future generations with peace and happiness.
Today, we have a song that breaks through the silence. A song given to us. A song to sing to each other. God will lift us up when we are low. God will fill us with good things when we are hungry. Hungry for food, hungry for love, and acceptance. Yes, God today reaches out as he always did, with mercy.” Mary shares her song with us today. Because she wants us to remember. To connect – to the history – and find our future – and see a present, like hers, that God blesses. And we must pass this Song on.
we each are a song of God. We are a divine note hung lovingly in the universe that nothing can extinguish. No longer shall we forget – we promise Mary – we promise each other –in case we forget – our soul magnifies God. God will do great things for us. And Holy is his name.
In Mary’s song and all the other transformational songs, carols, hymns we have come to know and love, we are lead to God’s love and blessing: and choose this telling quote to accompany her profile: “You got to dance like nobody’s watching. Dream like you will live forever, live like [you're] gonna die tomorrow, and love like it’s never going to hurt.”
Thank you, Mary –– for sharing so generously your songs. We sing with you “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and Holy is His name.” So in this final week of Advent, let us indeed declare all the great things God has done for us. Shout it out. Reveal it for all to see. Sing it, if you can. Sing the carols and songs that capture what God has done for you. In each song you hear, what speaks of the blessings God has bestowed on your life. Think about it, as you get ready for Christmas. Let all these songs of love, connect us to each other, remind us who we are and who we are called to be, through the power of Christ our Lord. Amen.