At the start of the advent story, in the dust of Nazareth, a teenage girl sings a protest song. It’s the sort of song that, in the wrong political climate, gets your name on a list somewhere. It’s the sort of song that shakes the world. It’s the sort of song that sings of a badass faith.
Mary sings, and in singing she prophesies that the child she’s suddenly carrying will be an agent of justice and mercy and peace. The proud will be brought low; the starving will be filled; the humble will be lifted up; the avaricious will find themselves lying in gutters. It’s subversive and counter-cultural, God siding with the weak against the powerful, standing with the marginalised in the corridors of power. We don’t always read it as such; it’s too easy to see Mary as an innocent sitting in the middle of a Nativity scene, as someone who’s sweet and middle-class and quiet and beatific. We forget she’s a young girl coming of age in poverty, among political oppression and poverty. When Mary sings out, she becomes a prophet.
And because of that, her song echoes like a heartbeat at the centre of history. Theologically, it’s a bridge between the Garden of Eden and the coming of the Messiah. That’s why modern representations of this draw upon the books of Genesis and Revelation, identifying a sense of sisterhood between Mary and Eve, and showing Mary going toe-to-toe with the Serpent of Eden and the Dragon of Revelation. And that’s healing – the piece by Sr Grace Remington, Mary consoling Eve, is healing, refusing the binaries that we erect to keep us apart. The virgin can embrace the fallen woman and we can be healed by the life that grows in her belly. There’s hope there, and a prophecy at their feet, the serpent ultimately defeated, humanity reconciled to each other and to God.
That’s because there’s something about Mary’s song that resonates with people on the margins, the oppressed and the downtrodden. Take a look at the icon/graffiti painted on Bethlehem’s Separation Wall, Our Lady Who Brings Down Walls. It’s a traditional looking icon of Mary, but along the Wall in the background there’s a crudely painted serpent-dragon, a spray-painted behemoth forever pursuing the Holy Family but never catching them, a monster and metaphor due to be crushed by the baby in the manger. We can turn to these stories at times of trial, turn to them and hear a Palestinian teenager speaking words of God, an inspired signal in the middle of the noise.
Listen for this, because at this time of year we’ll see Christmas be contested; we’ve already heard people using the relationship between Mary and Joseph being used to justify inappropriate relationships between teenagers and adults. The gospel can be weaponised; faith can be made toxic; Mary’s song can drown out these cacophonies; after all, the Lord called her to be a badass prophet of God and a young mother. Let’s not reduce her or infantilise her.
It’s December 1st, and so we also commemorate the day that Rosa Park was arrested for not giving up her seat. We’ve also seen the #ChurchToo hashtag trending across Twitter. The prophetic voice of women still needs to be heard; heirs to the Magnificat and Mary’s song, and the cry of the baby in a manger.