Song of Mary: Radical Hope
My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant's plight, and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest. Could the world be about to turn?
My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!
Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me,
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame, and to those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn.
From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears ev'ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn;
There are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.
Though the nations rage from age to age,we remember who holds us fast:
God's mercy must deliver us from the conqueror's crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound,
'Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.
"Canticle of the Turning" by Rory Cooney, GIA Publications
I love to bang out the piano accompaniment to this song as my choir or congregation sings it. It feels like a song of protest, and it really is. Listen or read the lyrics again and then read The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1. I have seen many paraphrases and translations of Mary's song of praise, but I like this one the best. It captures the radical hope of a woman in her circumstances. I can't even imagine what it would have been like to be young and pregnant in 1st century Palestine, even without the added drama of the angel visit and possible scandal. Triply oppressed, Mary was a second class citizen at best in her culture. Her people were being persecuted, not only by the Romans, who were desecrating their holy places, but also by their own leaders, who had corrupted everything about their faith.
Under those circumstances, I can almost imagine that Mary, not just the child in her womb, leapt at the chance to be part of her people's deliverance. I used to think, and many sermons have suggested, that Mary would have been reluctant when the angel asked her to give birth to the Messiah. I don't think so anymore. I think when the persecution and oppression are great enough and the longing for the world intended by God strong enough, any of us would jump at the chance to participate.
And so it makes me wonder if we long for God's kingdom enough. Our lives are so different from Mary's. Maybe we don't long for it, or pray for it, or work for it, enough. Mary's song shows the radical hope she dared to voice in the midst of sin, corruption, and death. Her willingness to bear the saving Christ into this world, into her world, was an act of tremendous bravery.
We have an advantage. We know what is happening all over our world. We are aware of the conflicts, the famines, disasters, and persecution. We not only see the need in our own communities, but we can have an intimate view of the suffering of people all over the world. This can be overwhelming, and in the past I have addressed this by saying that we are called to serve in the situations presented to us, but this feeling of being overwhelmed can be useful. If we let it, it causes us to cry out to God, to pray for change, to yearn for things to be made right, once and for all. It causes us to feel the urgency of need for God's kingdom to be fully realized, here and now. If we allow ourselves to live with this longing for long enough, we will be ready for the angel when he comes. If we're not sure that we would jump at the chance to bear Christ into our world, then we are not longing enough and we are in denial.
I don't have to wait for Christmas to join in Mary's song. I know that the world is about to turn, that wrong will be made right, that war will become peace, that the hungry will be filled. I believe that the rich will share, that there will be justice for the oppressed, care for the sick, freedom for the prisoner, and a voice for the silenced. I hope for an end to violence and a beginning of fellowship between all people. I'm ready.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn!