I love the songs that capture what horror it must have felt like to be a teenage girl who God had chosen for, well, anything. I feel both a sense of honor and terror every time I think that there is good on earth God would have me do.
So songs like “Breath of Heaven,” by Amy Grant and “Mary Did You Know,” by Mark Lowry tap into our sense of how overwhelming we would have been and how overwhelmed we are right now. Through our eyes we can only imagine such a call to be suffocating, full of fear. This, however, is not at all like the song Mary actually sang.
This naive, unpolished girl of no great means did not suffocate in the richness of the moment. She sang. Her song was a bold and resolute praise. It was a barbaric yawp of a yes. “Yes!” She cries, “What else could I say? I know who you are God.”
The idea that God would use someone like her is not new to this story. She sang a song whose lines were borrowed from women who had sung similar songs for thousands of years. Songs like Miriam’s Song of the sea. Mary knew from all of the old stories the odd and and lovely places where God likes to show up.
Her song begins in gratitude and an expression of humility to be sure. In this way her song is not unlike our new Christmas songs. But then she goes on to show she understood far better in that moment, things we struggle to just face today.
She knew the stuff about pulling down the proud, feeding the hungry and sending the rich away empty handed. She saw the kingdom of God and did not shudder. She saw herself as lowly but she understood just what a threat that could be to other kinds of kingdoms. Of course this made sense to her. She was lowly, and God works in lowly. She had heard that song before. She simply said yes.
I still get sweaty palms trying to picture what good I can do here. I can take a lesson from Mary, the world’s least likely candidate. Remember what you know of God’s upside-down kingdom: Don’t flinch and don’t get proud. Just say yes, give thanks and God will be born in you.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.