When Pastor Sean encouraged us this past weekend to see the Christmas story without all the trappings we usually associate with the holiday, I was reminded of a book I read several years ago titled The Real Mary by Scot McKnight. In chapter after chapter McKnight takes a fresh look at this extraordinary woman, debunking every syrupy impression I’ve ever had of her!
I confess, before reading McKnight’s book, I never thought much about Mary – except at Christmas (and never, until now, in the month of March!). But truthfully, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without her, would they? Along with baby Jesus and Joseph, she appears faithfully each year – in Christmas programs, on fireplace mantles, in live nativity scenes, and in paintings on Christmas tree ornaments. And yes, she almost always has a soft blue scarf over her head!
So when McKnight talks about Mary in Chapter 3 of his book as a “Woman of Justice,” it’s an eye-opener for me. Her song, known as The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), is far more than “a pious canticle sung in liturgical churches” according to McKnight. “The Magnificat,” he says, “was for Mary’s world what ‘We Shall Overcome’ was to the African American community in the USA in the 1960s and 1970s.” I was in high school then – I remember the riots! The memory of those events and what transpired at that time gives me a whole different perspective on what Mary was singing about, you know??
Mary sees her new role as the mother of the Messiah – the One promised by God – not only with eyes of faith, but with eyes wide open to the reality of the world she lives in – a world in which Herod, king of Israel, rules with ruthless tyranny. She boldly proclaims God’s justice in her song saying, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but lifted up the humble.” This woman has guts, doesn’t she? Even the Magi were warned by God to find a different route home so they could avoid the wicked Herod.
For those of us who only pull out the story of Jesus’ birth in December, there’s a wake-up call in what Mary sings, isn’t there? The Word has become flesh and is now dwelling in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Like Mary, we have a call on our lives, too. It’s the call to show the real Jesus to the world of our time.