The Promise comes close - advent thoughts on Mary, Hope, and Singing

The promises of God are wonderful, but they are almost always interruptive, and they’re usually confusing as well. This was especially true when God’s promise came close to Mary. We might be accustomed to portrayals that highlight the faithfulness of Mary when the Angel Gabriel announces that God has chosen her to bear the promised Savior. Often she is shown as docile, trusting, and calm. She is held up as an example of the kind of unquestioning and submissive faith that all of us should have. (This portrayal, by the way, has been problematic to faithful Christian women over the centuries.)

Yet, whenever I read Luke 1 closely, I find something so relatable and human about Mary’s reaction to the angel. Because Mary acts as just like I would should an angel appear before me: surprised and a bit baffled. The text says Mary is “much perplexed by his words” and, when given a chance to respond, asks “How can this be?” And yes, Mary goes on to say “Let it be with me according to your word,” but notice she does not say “I totally understand this plan” or “this is absolutely what I had dreamed of when I thought about what my life would be.” Mary, like us, is confused and startled when God calls her. Yet without relinquishing an ounce of her confusion and doubt, she chooses to accept this disruptive invitation from God.

And what Mary does next is of great value to those of us who have known the confusing and jolting promises of God for ourselves: Mary sings! God’s promises to us are so lofty and wild that they can scarcely be believed using prose. Instead, we come closest to glimpsing God’s dreams and visions for this world in song and art. Mary sings of God’s hope and longing for this world, a hope that will be fulfilled in the child she carries. And the specific parameters of this vision are so grand that they would be laughable were they not sung.

In a world of résumés and popularity contests, Mary sings that what God loves about her is her lowliness. In a world where the problems of the present moment hold a monopoly on our thoughts, Mary sings and her vision widens, recalling God’s faithfulness to her ancestors and remembering that generations to come will still be led by this same God. And in a world where the rich and powerful wield far more control than humans should, Mary sings of a God who makes a feast for the hungry where there is no room for rank or distinction.

This kind of sung hope does not submit well to logic or rational analysis. It must be borne by music, where our hearts and voices soar, and beauty drowns out the tyranny of the world's cold message which we hear too often: that nothing can be changed. Where our minds cannot understand or believe God’s promises, our hearts and bodies begin to embrace the hope that God sends this world as they make a joyful noise.

This Advent, may you sing until the hope that Mary bore lives in you as well.

Come, Lord Jesus.