The Magnificat (Mary’s prayer of thanksgiving after the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel) is meant to unsettle. Mary — a teenage girl living in relative poverty in Roman-occupied Nazareth — “proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” She identifies herself as a “lowly servant” of God (in Greek, the word is more like “slave woman”). She announces God’s solidarity with the poor, the humble, and the hungry. She declares a complete and utter reversal of the established social order in which the proud are scattered, the mighty are toppled, and the rich are sent away empty. If these words fail to make us feel uneasy, we aren’t paying them enough attention. As people living the midst of first world prosperity, Our Lady’s words are a call to remember the perils of pride … of imagining ourselves so strong, so capable, so wise that we forget our dependence on God and our dependence on one another. She rebukes the powerful who wield their might not to lift others out of poverty, hopelessness, and violence but to further their own interests and intimidate others by force. She confronts those who claim more than their fair share of resources while millions cry out in hunger. She is a holy force with which to be reckoned.
This Advent, I am remembering Mary. I am thankful for the comfort and motherly affection she has showered on me. I am thankful for the gentle and powerful way she teaches me to listen to Jesus. I am also thankful for her words, which make me uncomfortable and demand that I be willing to forsake privilege for justice and love. I am still learning. I have a long way to go. But it is the strong, prophetic voice of Mary that led me to the Church. It is her voice that calls to me this Advent reminding me that approaching Jesus — in the manger, at the altar, in prayer — is about peace and transformation. Comfort and upheaval.