I can just imagine that being the reaction by certain individuals if they had a modern Mary, mother of Jesus, speaking this outrageous song, known as the Magnificate, in public. They would want to shut her down and tell her to be quiet. They would tell her to stop being political, or stop being a man-hating feminist. They would buy the cutesy Christmas cards of Mary looking at an adoring baby and bypass Mary the soap-box preacher dressed in rags.
Mary is a powerful dynamic speaker in a time when women didn’t count much. The fact that someone took the time to record her name and her words is amazing! Even today when girls aren’t seen as worth educating in some cultures, often one girl will make her voice heard despite those handicaps. It’s something teen age girls often do.
I first learned about teen age girls as prophets when I read of Hermione Granger and her passion for house elves. Elves, in the Harry Potter world, are treated like possessions and slaves, and are disrespected by the wizarding world. They are invisible, and not worthy of fair treatment by their masters. Hermione is outraged by this and tries to empower them, not understanding their culture or their point of view. But she has a passion to see justice done, and will do whatever she can.
J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, once said that teen-age girls are full of passion and want to make a difference in their worlds. They become crusaders for justice and equality. Some of the first Methodist women preachers in Canada go back to the 1800’s, and in 1819, their average age was 19! So we have young ladies like Malala Yousafse, who was only 17 when she won the Nobel peace Prize. She was inspired by Emma Watson, who struggled with being treated with disrespect because she was female, and who decided she would be a feminist when she was 14.
Emma Watson cared about world issues because of the character she was playing in movies, the character of Hermione Granger, again, beautifully written by J. K. Rowling. Rowling’s writing is full of deep conversations of what makes life worth while, and there are many times when she does not shy away from gritty descriptions of life. Rowling lived in poverty, and was a single mom. There were some days where she struggled with depression and suicide, but all this became part of what makes her stories resonate with youth and young adults. They inspire joy that even young people can make a difference in addressing big issues.
We so often mix up joy with happiness, and I think that we need to rethink what we are looking for this Advent. Are we looking for joy, which is lasting, or happiness, which can be fleeting? Mary’s song is full of joy, but her life, if the Gospels can be trusted, was not a happy thing. Fleeing violence on one hand (Matthew’s story of the trip to Egypt), and social judgement on the other (Luke’s tale of visiting her aunt in another region of the country, away from gossiping eyes), she lived a hard life as a young poverty stricken mother. With prophesies from temple officials that her baby would die in a way that would pierce her heart, she did not expect happiness in life. She did experience joy. Joy rooted in Justice.
Our society is becoming increasingly a place where justice and equality is publicly supported but privately trashed. We fail to think about the difference between a lasting joy rooted in values and principles compared to happiness which is often rooted in things or places or people. The great wine, the excellent tv, the newest kitchen counters and cupboards, and so on. That kind of happiness doesn’t stand up to the grittiness of life.
It’s called sentimentality. The idea that we can get our ‘fix’ from short-term easy solutions for happiness. We want cheap and easy answers that we don’t want to have to think through. It’s much easier to yell, “Lock her Up” and go along with the crowd than think about the intention behind such a statement. Should women be locked up just because they want to have a political career? Should feminists like Emma Watson have to listen to threats, insults and disgusting comments? Should men feel the pressure to keep being tough at all costs for fear that someone would take away their “man card” whatever that is? The truth is that we live in gritty times and there are no easy answers to what we face. If we want an easy life, we won’t have a joyful life. If we want a just life, lived to high values, it won’t be easy.
Life is not easy. We are wounded, blind, foolish, ill, weak in the knees, unsure of our way, and wondering if we will ever reach the end of our journey. We long thirstily for good news, for hope to sustain us on our long trek to a place where we will feel at peace. Isaiah and Mary have joy because they said yes to the invitation to participate in God’s vision of justice. Both call us again and again to reject the simple solutions for a grittier just relationship with the world. It begins with you and me remembering to be open to God’s action. We wait for Justice and equality, for fairness, for healing, and for hope, we wait for God to prepare a highway through the desert of our lives. Waiting is not simple, it isn’t happy, and it is not what we want to do. But in this season of Advent, we are called to wait and be open to God’s transforming actions in this hurting world. May it bring joy us all.