Vive la Révolution!

Maria could have gotten an abortion. Even in the days before Roe v. Wade made it legal women had alternatives to going through with an unwanted pregnancy. In her heart she knew she had done nothing wrong, but that wouldn’t take away the shame or stop the raised eyebrows in her small town. It would have been easy for her to rationalize ending her pregnancy. After all, no one would know . . . no one except her. She would know, and so she decided to keep the baby and deal with the judgmental looks and behind-the-back whispers. Besides, her fiancé José said he’d stick with her no matter what. He was a good guy. Somehow they’d make it through this crisis.

Of course, we know Maria as Mary and her fiancé as Joseph not José. Mary was indeed in a crisis—an unexpected pregnancy followed by a shotgun wedding. And there was that angelic vision. Or was it a dream? She must have questioned at times whether her mind made it all up—that business about giving birth to the son of God. In the end Mary accepted her situation gracefully. What else could she do? So she went to live with her much older cousin Elizabeth, who was also expecting. Her situation seemed even more miraculous, since she conceived after being childless for a long time. When the two pregnant cousins met, Elizabeth felt the baby kick in her womb and sang Mary’s praises. Mary sang too.

The Magnificat, Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, is surprising. It was not a lullaby, as one might expect, but a revolutionary march, a musical manifesto—like La Marseillaise for the French or the Germans’ Deutschland über alles. According to William Barclay, the Magnificat announces a threefold revolution—moral, political, and economic. First is the moral revolution in which God exalted the humble (Mary) and “scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (51). The political revolution comes next. The lyrics say God “hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree” (52). Finally, there is an economic revolution in which God “filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent away empty” (53). The Bible presents this future state as if it were already reality. God’s promise to turn society on its head is presented as if the world were already upside down. It’s not a very comforting message for those who are proud, powerful, or wealthy. Such people cause much pain and injustice in the world (and we have all been those people at times), but they will get their comeuppance.

There is an interesting irony in the story. God caused Mary’s pain and disgrace. It was necessary for her to endure both physical and social distress to bring the savior into the world. The good news is that one born long ago in this crazy, mixed-up world began a revolution—a revolution of hope. Vive la Révolution!

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