I want to let you in on a little secret:
Mary’s song? The Magnificat? One of the best known bits of scripture, set to music by so many different composers?
I think it was originally a punk rock song.
46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Mary’s song is the second installment in our “Advent Mixtape” sermon series. We are listening together to the songs of the season. But we want to be very clear about which season. In a sermon at Plymouth, years ago, Angie Arendt talked about “HallowThanksMass” –the season that seems to start earlier every year, an orgy of mass consumption for no particular reason. We know the soundtrack to that season: “Santa Baby” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
But I am talking about a different season altogether –something more ancient, more obscure. For the church, this is the season of Advent. The music is more plaintive, the mood one of longing.
Our songs are about our yearning for God to make good on the promise.
So last week we heard how Mary—pregnant and probably confused—went to visit her cousin Elizabeth (also pregnant). In her anxiety and fear, Mary was no doubt surprised to be blessed by her cousin. It is a powerful moment in which Mary’s experience is confirmed, validated, celebrated. Mary hears from Elizabeth that what is happening to her is actually OK –more than OK. It is a blessing from God.
And I believe it is the context of Mary’s affirmation that allows Mary to sing her song.
It is not entirely original. Mary draws on Hannah’s song –sung by another woman who saw in her pregnancy the larger purpose of God. The themes are similar. Each woman sees her pregnancy as the sign of a great reversal. God will side with the lowly, the least, the nobodies. God enters history in the side of the underdog.
But those are just the lyrics. My question is this: what did it sound like?
No bible scholar will back me up, but I have some theories: The tempo was fast. The guitars were crunchy. Some of the lyrics may have been shouted.
I believe that Mary, the mother of God, sings a punk rock song.
Growing up in pre-internet, pre-cable TV rural Pennsylvania, my friends and I preferred skateboards to footballs. It was a hard way to live. But we heard rumors of a wider world where people like us could find a place to fit in. So my skater buddies and I passed around homemade mixtapes. We shared songs by bands like Bad Religion, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, the Ramones, the Dead Kennedys. We loved this music because it told us something we had secretly suspected for a very long time: the world into which we were being socialized—into which we were so intensely pressured to fit in—that world was, well, messed up. The music spoke to us because it exposed the hypocrisy of authority figures. It told us that we were right to doubt the things that they told us.
I think Mary’s song does something similar. It celebrates God’s upending of the status quo. It calls out injustice in high places.
Make no mistake: the Advent mixtape includes songs of subversion; lyrics you have to hide from your parents and teachers.
Long before Sheena, Mary was a punk rocker.