The Song of Mary | Advent Week One
"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." — Luke 1:46-47
The Advent season is a time for joyful remembering and retelling. Each year, as we await the coming of Christmas, we gather around and share all the best family stories, photos, and home videos. And while there is always space for new traditions, most of our focus is on what has come before us, remembering things that have made us smile in years past.
Music has a unique ability to connect different people and generations. As we walk through stores or sit in coffee shops during the holiday season, we often find ourselves humming along to familiar tunes with people in our proximity. Through music, we can share smiles and conversations with strangers. Well-known songs form a shared language between us, with common stories, feelings, and sentiments resounding among us.
This community, built over song, was also part of first-century Jewish culture as significant stories were retold and passed down through song. Our modern understanding of the significance of songs is not all that different—they are a way for us to express more emotions in fewer words with a depth of sound to convey what lyrics alone cannot. Songs remain a poetic way to share our stories. And as the holidays approach, we sing many of the same songs over and over, cherishing our favorite lyrics and voices in the comforting way that this season invites.
Within the first few verses of the Gospel of Luke, Mary gives voice to a song, also known as the Magnificat, that sets the tone for much of the story that is about to unfold. Pregnant and overjoyed, Mary’s song offers praise to God for the story being told through her life. There is a knowledge that as a result of what God is doing in Mary’s life, “from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me” (Luke 1:48b-49, NIV). Another translation reads “all the people who ever shall be will call me the happiest of women!” (PHILLIPS). Mary is still just as unsure of how the story will develop as she is of the person the child growing in her will become, but her reflection in this moment rings true with the happiest of praise. She is a vessel for the fulfillment of promises to generations just as her song has continued to be a reminder for generations after her. Each Advent, her words ring more and more true as we tell of the powerful story God chose to do through this humble woman.
Much of what Mary sang continues to be comforting as we seek hope in our uncertainty. As God fulfilled so many promises through the birth of Christ, Mary got to witness and praise, singing this song over and over and treasuring these things in her heart. The appeal of Christmas is the same for us—we seek comfort and hope as we anticipate God to continue to fulfill promises.
What can we carry with us this Advent from a song so powerful that we join in the words of this young mother with us for 2,000 years, repeating it year after year as Advent approaches? Humility and joy—these are two of the main things Mary intertwined with her praise; together, they set the tone for much of the Advent season. Hundreds of our carols and songs mimic the same tone of a joyful young mother, humbled in awe at the story God is telling through her life. There is a wonder to Christmas that we seek to capture through music; a sense that in entering into this season we are bearing witness to something life-changing.
We rejoice as light breaks over a too-dark world and dare to hope that the transformation God intends for the world will extend to us too. Later, after Mary gives birth to Jesus, she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Like many mothers, perhaps she continued to sing these same words of praise over her son long after the lullaby was needed as she watched the refrain she vocalized become more and more true.
With that heart posture, may the words we sing and the stories we share ring more true to the characteristics of God this year and in all our years to come. Carrying an attitude of humility and joy, may we find hope and comfort as we watch and anticipate the actions of God.
Words: Sabrina Dawson
Images: Aaron Burden