Blessed is she who believed that what God said to her would be accomplished. -Luke 1:45
I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to feel joy while waiting for justice. Lately, my heart has just felt heavy. Each and every day I see and hear stories of hatred, bigotry, abuse of power, hunger, conceit, indifference, greed and blatant disregard for justice. We are often both bombarded with it and actively trying to ignore it, neither of which seems to make anything better. I’ve felt as if I have been in a constant state of grief, grief over the pain many suffer, grief over the role I myself have played in it, and grief at the loss all of us suffer in the absence of equality. This grief is overwhelming, disorienting and divisive and I imagine many of us are feeling it across the country, in our schools, our homes, and our places of worship.
But during this season of advent we are reminded of a song, sung by a young, unmarried, pregnant, middle eastern woman named Mary. A song so filled with deep and holy joy that it astounds me. Mary, in the midst of a damaged world in which she was given very little value, responded to God’s call, saying:
“My soul proclaims your greatness O God,
And my spirit rejoices in you.
You have looked with love on your servant here,
And blessed me all my life through.
Great and mighty are you, O Holy One,
Strong is your kindness ever more.
How you favor the weak and lowly one,
humbling the proud of heart.
You have cast the mighty down from their thrones,
and uplifted the humble of heart,
You have filled the hungry with wondrous things,
And left the wealthy no part.
Great and mighty are you, O Faithful One,
Strong is your justice, strong your love,
As you promised to Sarah and Abraham,
Kindness forever more.”
(taken from the Holden Evening Prayer Service- based off of Luke 1:46-55)
Mary responded with a joy that trusted in God’s promise of restoration and of new beginnings. A promise that God would come into our midst to disrupt the status quo and that this disruption would forever change us. The promise of Jesus meant that the world could in fact be more than it was. It could be brighter, kinder, and more just. It could be a world where all were valued, not just a few. A world where women could and would be the first to share the good news of God. A world that Mary could boldly play a part in creating. And in this, Mary teaches us a valuable lesson. Mary’s joy does not equate to happiness, it is much deeper. It is a profound, hope-filled joy, a defiant joy, and a prophetic joy. A joy that lights a fire for us all.
This is a joy I know well. I saw it first at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp. In a community of young people boldly telling one another that they are loved no matter what, for exactly who they are. Over and over again, week after week, year after year. I saw this joy again as those same young people went back to their lives, carrying that love with them and allowing it to ignite them into becoming passionate peacemakers, activists, creators and reformers. I see it in the hosts of prophets and teachers that guide me in my faith formation today, in the words and prayers of Lenny Duncan, Rachel Held Evans, Austin Channing Brown, Nadia Boltz-Weber, Mihee Kim-Kort, Mey Sarun and Traci Vatne. Mary’s joy is at the root of my faith and why, I think, we all continue to do the work we do. Because like Mary, we trust in God’s promise of restoration, of transformation and of love. And witnessing that played out in the world, whether through the life of Jesus, or through those who continue to live by his example, is a profoundly joyful thing to behold.
So I ask this of you. In the midst of the world we find ourselves in, where do you see this joy of Mary echoing amongst us? And how do you, in all your unique and holy radiance, plan to add your voice to the song?
Savannah Phelan is the Associate Director of Faith Formation and Partnerships at Messiah Lutheran Church in Auburn, WA. She attended Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp throughout her childhood and served on summer staff from 2012 to 2014. Savannah was never allowed to play intimidating roles in the Passion Play because she smiled too much. Savannah likes to eat grapes.