Upon hearing that she will bear a child, Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). She is a teenager. She is unwed. She doesn’t understand how she can possibly be pregnant. She consents to the Lord’s words spoken through the angel. And she rejoices.
Not only is Mary experiencing extreme personal insecurity; her people, the Israelites, are extremely vulnerable. The overwhelming majority of ethnic Israel is scattered among other countries and other ethnicities. The small percentage that has returned to Palestine is under the harsh Roman rule. They not only must work to meet the demands of the foreign power but also to pay the taxes of their own vassal king.
Far from the Roman throne, far from Herod’s palace, and far from Israel’s refurbished temple, a peasant girl receives the promise that the Messiah is coming. In the midst of economic hardship and political exploitation, in the face of hunger and need, and before the Messiah has come, Mary rejoices.
The economic and political crises that we experience today may be rough, but I wonder how they compare to Mary’s experience. Not only is her nation under brutal oppression and not only does she not have the modern benefits of running water, electricity or petroleum, but she also faces the likelihood of being marginalized by her family and society. In such a context we should expect fear or confusion or tears. In fact, if someone would rejoice in such circumstances, we would think they were crazy.
In the midst of job-loss, falling stock markets, failing currencies, deceptive political rhetoric, growing poverty, and crafty exploitation, Mary sings a song. And the Church has kept the song as her own, singing it in anticipation of God’s salvation. But now, as in Mary’s day, the “inappropriate” outburst of joy may scandalize those who have not experienced the good news that salvation is come. God has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (1:51-53)