It was a song that has been sung through the generations, a song of hope in the midst of suffering, a song of God’s victory when it seemed all was lost, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”
This song filled the air when the people crossed through the Red Sea and the Egyptians were prevented from following them, when they looked out into the wide desert and wondered what was next for them. They stood on dry land and a cheer went up and Miriam began to sing, “Horse and rider are thrown into the sea, The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ You blew with your wind the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters.” It looked so bleak. They thought they would always live under oppression. Yet, in this moment, they let go of what they had been and began to hope in new life and they raised their voices in song about how God works in seemingly hopeless situations to turn things around and bring hope to people who are hurting.
The song was raised by Hannah who had been barren. But she went to pray to God. She vowed that if she bore a son, she would bring him to serve God as a little boy. In time she did bear a son and when he was weaned, she brought him to serve God. Her voice lifted in song to God in praise, out of the heartache of being barren, to leaving her little child in God’s service, she sang the song of hope of her people, the song of the great reversal, the song of God’s faithfulness. She sang, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.” She found a song of hope through her faith that sustained her through her darkest hour.
The song was raised by King David, in the Psalms. He walked those dark nights when he was faced with his own sin and greed, when he held his stillborn son in his arms, when he was confronted by a member of his own royal court about how he had sent the husband of Bathsheba to the front lines to be killed so that he could take his wife. He wandered far from God at times, knew terrible losses and pain. And in those dark hours, he composed Psalms, some of which drew on this song of the ages, of hope in the darkness. “The LORD raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap. He makes them sit with princes. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” And “You deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.” In his suffering and pain, he still looked to God with hope and lifted his voice in the ancient song of his people.
Elizabeth and Mary found themselves in the midst of darkness and pain. Elizabeth had been barren. Now she was an old woman. She had longed for new life to grow within her. She had longed for justice and peace. She had longed for the Messiah to come and save. She had been mocked by other women and looked down upon. She had been blamed for what her body would not or could not do. And now in her old age, she finds herself in the company of Sarah and Hannah, old women who find new life within, growing little ones that will grow into big ones who will make their mark, and give hope to the people.
Mary knew the pain of Roman occupation and oppression. She knew a woman’s place. She was just finding her voice. But someone had passed down the stories, someone has passed down the song of her people. She was sent away by her parents to the home of her older cousin Elizabeth, uncertain of Joseph’s next move, alone in the world, stared at, whispered about. I can hear her humming this song to herself on the journey. And when she bursts in, she is truly seen by her cousin, who shares the hope that is in her heart, her song. The two rejoice. The two understand each other. The two bless each other. Mary bursts into song. She sings the song her of her people, the song of faith and hope. It is a song of strength and power, a song of the proper place of all things in the Kingdom of God, an in-your-face, big middle finger to powers that defy God. This is a song of resistance, of protest.
She sings of what her soul magnifies, focuses on, makes larger—what is on her heart—The Lord. God has seen her and honored her, and God will put all things right, that we have all these divisions between us, that we hoard our food and our power and think we deserve to be in charge. But Mary’s song points out that God is in charge and God is good and God is faithful and God will make all things right.
Through Mary’s son we are adopted into God’s family. So the song of Mary’s people, Hannah’s people, David’s people is our song, too. Our sign today is, “Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.” Music has a way of closing the gaps between us. Music has a way of connecting us with the past and the future. We look into the mirror—what do we see? Do we see ourselves far away, strong and independent and alone or do we see how close we are to all those waiting expectantly for God’s justice.
Mary’s song points out the pregnant-waiting that we all do. There is darkness everywhere we look. Our world is a mess. Our country is a mess. Our schools are a mess. Even religion is a mess. There is a lot that is out of our hands, that we have no say over, that we can’t control. In Mary’s song, she places all those things in God’s hands. She lets them go, knowing, trusting that God will fulfill God’s promises. Instead, she raises her voice in hope, recalling the history of her people, of her faithful God, knowing that her hopes, in line with God’s hopes, will ultimately be fulfilled. She has reason to hope. Her song connects her to those who have gone before and to that promise which is ahead. The one to be born is the one of peace. It’s not just about barren women being pregnant, but what God has already started to gestate who will fulfill the promise of peace.
How many times did Mary sing that song to Jesus? Certainly, as she carried him within herself, he began to hear the song of God’s people, of liberation, of hope. How long until Jesus would begin singing this song himself, and it become his theme song, the Mission statement of his life? He was focused on God, magnifying God with every action. He saw people no one else saw, people who were sick, who were suffering, who were blind, who were blamed, who were foreigners and aliens, who were hungry, who were small, who were divorced, who were hopeless. He taught them a song about God’s Kingdom, God’s priorities. And as they raised their voices, they didn’t feel so small and helpless anymore, they felt powerful and hopeful.
Can we sing this song, too, we who are rich and full and proud? I believe we can. This is liberation for us, too. Do we trust in that strength of wealth, or do we allow ourselves to give thanks to the one who gives us all good things? Do we take the credit and live lives of wasteful excess to hurt people around us? Or do we remember our humble beginnings, the way we once went hungry, the way we squirrelled away coins to save for something special? Do we keep everything for ourselves, or do we give it away? Sometimes our wealth can be our God, and so this song is for us, because that wealth can’t help us at our last hour or be a friend to us when we are hurting. Only God will be there, faithful in new life. So we sing, show us hunger, if that will bring peace. Take away any pride we have and put our trust in you. Take away our power, we never really had any in the first place. Let this song be a song of hope for us who have too much that we would take our part in the Kingdom, that we would truly follow Jesus and find new life.
Did Mary sing that song at the foot of the cross? Did Jesus sing it with her? Did they find strength and hope, even up to his last breath that God would fulfill the promises to bring new life to the people?
We walk in deep darkness, but still our song of hope goes up. Our voices join with those of the angels, those of the people, those of our God. It is a song of hope, of our world overturned, of justice and peace.
Our sign today is, “Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.” Music has a way of melting away our distance and division. Music is the language of the soul, of our deepest longings, of our faith. It is a source of strength and a power to be reckoned with, a communication of our values, connections, and hopes. Let us join the song of Hannah, David, Miriam, Mary, and Jesus, and let the song transform us and liberate us all to be God’s people of love and peace.