Freedom Bound: The Path Of Hope

December 20, 2015
Luke 1:39-56

You already know this but your pastors are a lot like you, quite human. We get angry, sad, sick, (cough, cough) joyful, excited and overwhelmed. In this liturgical season of advent, economic season of Christmas, political season of elections driven by fear and globally the season of terrorism, more fear and climate change – it is easy to get overwhelmed, at least I am overwhelmed.

That’s why last week was so great here at Hyattsville Mennonite. We gathered together, some of us bringing friends who don’t usually go to church.  And we sang. We didn’t just sing advent hymns with a Christmas carol or two thrown in. We sang George Frederick Handel’s Messiah. In the face of fear and hate, in the face of uncertainty and turmoil we sang “For unto us a child is born and the government will be upon HIS shoulders.” We sang “Hallelujah, Wonderful counselor, the mighty God, everlasting.”

We gave our offerings, not just one but two offerings: one to carry on the work of this church and one to Reunion DC, to help another church group start for those who cannot find a worshipping community in which they are included after time in prison. And when we were done singing and sharing, we ate together, enough for everyone to have what they needed.

This, my friends, is part of living out the magnificat, Mary’s song. Singing in the face of fear, singing and sharing and eating together when you would rather hide alone in panic taking as much stuff with you as you can fit into that little protective room.

This text from Luke 1 rings true because Mary and Elizabeth also live in a time of fear, uncertainty and political hyperbole.

Mary’s song has been a word of hope and an inspiration for generations of musicians in many cultures. One can hear Mary’s words set to Gregorian chant, and set to music by Pachelbel, Vivaldi, Bach, Rachmaninoff, Arvo Part, John Rutter, the Beatles and many, many more. The Beatles, you don’t believe me? I didn’t either when Michelle told me. But listen to this.

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord;
let it be – to me according to your word.”
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be

Ok, it is not really the magnificat. It is what Mary says when the angel comes to her and announces that she is pregnant. Still…

Mary’s magnificat is her version of the Hallelujah chorus, a grand song handed down by her beloved Jewish tradition. Mary’s song is reminiscent of the songs Miriam and Hannah sang when, generations earlier, they triumphed over difficult situations. Miriam led the women in song and dance after the people were freed from slavery in Egypt. (Exodus 15) Hannah sang to celebrate that was she no longer infertile, that she was now the mother of Samuel. (I Samuel 2)  Hannah’s song celebrates God’s great work: bringing down the proud, lifting up poor people, feeding those who are hungry. Both Hannah and Miriam rejoice and thank God because they are witnesses to the impossible becoming possible. What was only a small glimmer of hope in their imaginations, becomes a mysterious reality.

The thing is – Hannah and Miriam sing after the impossible has happened. They sing their songs in thanksgiving and gratefulness, as testimonies to their own experiences of strange hope becoming remarkable reality.

Mary’s song, as recorded by Luke, comes in the midst of uncertainty. As she visits Elizabeth, Mary’s song is a hopeful song of anticipation, that her situation will turn out as well as Miriam and Hannah’s did. We know that it all works out for Mary and Joseph and Jesus – and the whole world, but Mary doesn’t know it. She has only hope that she will be called blessed. But she recalls that God shows strength, scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry, sending the rich away. She remembers that these things have happened in the past and she has hope that once again the impossible can happen.

Mary does not sing alone. Like Miriam sang with the women, as Hannah sang at the temple, Mary sings in Elizabeth’s presence. Being hopeful alone is not easy. For extreme introverts maybe it works but most of us appreciate the presence of another human that can help us believe what we are saying, what we are singing. Having a witness, having company as we put out that little piece of hoping for the impossible, makes it seem more real. If we can speak it or sing it in the presence of another it seems almost possible. There is a reason we pray together, that we share our money and time and burdens with each other in community. There is power and possibility when we reach out to the other, when we work together.

Mary needs Elizabeth, her elder cousin/aunt/relative. Elizabeth is living the impossible already, getting pregnant in her old age, living with a husband who has suddenly gone mute. Elizabeth knows about the impossible and she can help support Mary and her impossible situation as well. An unmarried and (unexpectedly) pregnant young teen needs an older friend.

With the life experience of living the impossible that Elizabeth offers, Mary sings her song of hope dreaming of a future that has come before and will surely come again.

In September, for one night I was a groupie of Nadia Bolz Weber while she was on her book tour. Blogging at and pastoring at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Nadia is cool; I can only aspire to be such a cool pastor. We do both have short hair that sticks up and wear a lot of black. But she is 6 feet tall (before heels) and has sleeve tattoos. And swears when she preaches. Don’t worry, I am way too Mennonite for all that, but there is an allure.

Nadia recently told this story in a sermon:

I was speaking somewhere in the Midwest … when a middle-school kid raised their hand during a Q & A. I called on her and in her anxious bravery she asked “Pastor Nadia, what advice do you have for someone my age who might be bullied and not have many friends and is maybe someone who other kids make fun of?”

Usually during a Q and A – regardless of who asks the question I direct my response to the whole group but not this time. This time I looked directly into her eyes and said: “Look kid. Im so sorry thats happening and I totally get it because Ive been there. But as horrible as it is right now…just do whatever you can to get through it because I promise you one thing: grown ups who were bullied in Middle School and survive it, are like, 10 times cooler and more interesting as adults than the ones who were doing the bullying. You get through this and youre gonna be amazing. I promise you. Those kids will be nothing but a footnote later on. I mean, come on…who wants to peak in middle school?” (

I don’t know if she would see it this way, but I see Pastor Nadia playing Elizabeth to this young middle school Mary, who feels overwhelmed by her situation now and anxious about the future. Only in this case, Nadia sings the song for Mary, helping to teach her the song she needs to sing. It may not be quite as poetic as Mary’s song but it has a similar ring to it. You are going to survive, you are going to be the one who triumphs in the end. People will call you blessed.

Perhaps this song of Mary’s is one she and Elizabeth sang together. We always give credit to Mary but Mary learns it from Miriam and Hannah. Surely it is not a total surprise to Elizabeth that Mary sings this song that reaches forward to triumph – by reaching back into what God has done in the past.

This is all well and good and true about Mary and Elizabeth, hope and songs and the impossible.

Then I went to Glut to buy eggs so I could bake a birthday cake. Glut is our local food co-op with the slogan, “Still cheap, still funky.” Glut was one of the first food cooperatives in the country. Started in 1969 by conscientious objectors to the Vietnam war, it has always seemed to me to be a bit of paradise. People from all walks of life, all cultures and countries work together, shop together, and scoop organic, bulk granola together.

With the magnificat on my mind, I went to Glut where I happened upon a conversation between two workers. The woman working the register said, “You can’t believe how some people are.” You mean the workers here, I asked. “Yes.” It’s not utopia here? “No, more like reality TV.” She looked me straight in the eye, her brown skin radiant, her braids a crown on her head and said without a twinkle, “What’s good for you, may not be good for me. What works for you, may not work for me.”

There it is, the “problem” with the magnificat. What Mary celebrates, what’s good for Mary, may not be good for some other people, like the rich or the proud or the powerful. I am not entirely sure I understood what she was intimating but I think the woman was saying that sometimes at Glut the white workers have different options, ideas, goals than the workers of color – and guess whose prevail. She seemed surprised when I told her, “I tell my kids that they should be careful what they do, that not everyone can get away with the foolishness that white kids can.” “You really say that to your kids?” “Absolutely, they need to understand their privilege.” I got my receipt, got on my bike and pedaled home, a small magnificat moment.

What do we do, we who look like the privileged, the powerful, the full, the mighty, the rule makers, the wealthy? Mary’s song may not be a song of hope for us. How do we hold our privilege lightly so that when God topples the mighty from their thrones we don’t fall too far or get crushed in the process? How do we become aware of our privilege so that we can use it for good, help raise up the lowly, feed the hungry, make community with those who are scattered, help turn the system around? That is the question we live with every day, here in the heart of the empire – how do we turn the system around, how do we make Mary’s impossible magnificat vision become possible, for at least a few people?

Mary’s magnificat is good news – for some people. And it is an invitation to examine our lives, and live out the song as best we can – with one eye glimpsing God’s power in the past and one eye seeking the hope that awaits us in the future – while we sing and share and eat together now.