What Mary Believed Politically About The Birth of a Savior
The best source of what the birth of Jesus means is Mary. Mary’s Magnificat should be the part of every Christmas message. It’s filled with worldview principles by stating that God is her savior, not the State. He chooses His highest creation for great things. The future is God’s; it does not belong to the devil. Contrary to what many Christians are taught and believe, Satan does not ruler this world. Then there’s this:
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble (Luke 1:52).
Don’t ever say the Bible does not address politics. Mary believed it does, and she said so.
- The Magnificat has been part of the Church’s liturgy since its earliest days.
- For centuries, members of religious orders have recited or sung these words on a daily basis.
- It is the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament.
- It is also the first Christmas carol ever composed.
- Parts of Mary’s Magnificat echo the song of Hannah (found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10) and are also reminiscent of the anguish of the prophets.
- In the past century, there were at least three separate instances of governments banning the public recitation of the Magnificat. Its message, they feared, was too subversive.
The last point is similar to the tactics of Christians who published Parts of the Holy Bible, Selected For the Use of the Negro Slaves, an edited version of the Bible that left out anything “that might lead slaves to turn on their masters.”
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Mary also mentions those on the margin of society who are affected most by political shenanigans by those who use the authority and force of civil powers to oppress the masses and exalt and enrich themselves. Notice that Mary is not calling for government programs. It the rulers who need to “brought down from their thrones.” Political barriers to advancement need to be removed. The “rich” are those who have cozied up to the politicians of the day to advance their agendas at the expense of everyone else. This was Jesus’ beef with the Rich Young Ruler.
Consider the following;
During the British rule of India, the Magnificat was prohibited from being sung in church. In the 1980s, Guatemala’s government discovered Mary’s words about God’s preferential love for the poor to be too dangerous and revolutionary. The song had been creating quite the stirring amongst Guatemala’s impoverished masses. Mary’s words were inspiring the Guatemalan poor to believe that change was indeed possible. Thus their government banned any public recitation of Mary’s words. Similarly, after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo—whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War—placed the Magnificat’s words on posters throughout the capital plaza, the military junta of Argentina outlawed any public display of Mary’s song.
It’s unfortunate that some regard the Magnificat as a call for wealth redistribution. In the end, such programs affect the poor even more so that the last state of the poor becomes worse than the first (Matt. 12:45).
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized the revolutionary nature of Mary’s song. Before being executed by the Nazis, Bonhoeffer spoke these words in a sermon during Advent 1933:
The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.… This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.
Jerry Bowyer adds some helpful analysis:
To those are steeped in forms of Christianity which take an other-wordly tilt, Mary’s reaction is shockingly political and economic. Fully a third of the text is explicitly dedicated to socio-political change, and it is very likely that these explicit statements signal a similar interpretation to some of the rest of the song. For example, given the social message of verses 51-53, it is likely that the reference to Mary’s ‘humble state’ in 48 also has a social meaning, which means that ‘the Mighty One has done great things for me” also refers to an upending of the social order. What about her reference to Abraham? Abraham’s life included numerous confrontations with political and economic tyranny, including his mistreatment by Pharaoh, his mistreatment by Abimelech, and the rescue of Lot from imperial capture.
Mary and Joseph knew of the harsh reality of political overreach. They were about to be set on a journey to Bethlehem to register for a tax. Their lives would be upended. Joseph’s occupation as a carpenter would be put on hold unless he could find work on the way. What little savings they had were eaten up in travel expenses.
Mary personally witnessed the tyranny of both ecclesiastical and political power as she watched her son die an agonizing death (John 19:25).