Tuesday 22 December 2020

Was Mary ‘meek & mild’? – a reflection on Luke 1:46-55

Elizabeth greets Mary

The readings from St Luke’s Gospel set for this week as we approach Christmas are all about St Mary. Today’s reading, which we’ve just heard, is her great hymn of praise to God which we know as the Magnificat.

Mary, pregnant with Jesus, has travelled to a hill town to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist. ‘When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb … For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord”’.

And Mary responds with the Magnificat.

Most of us, I suppose, have grown up with a rather mawkish image of Mary as meek and mild, a demure teenager who couldn’t say boo to a goose. This has been reinforced in art, and in many of our favourite hymns and carols. ‘Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head’, we sing in one hymn. ‘Mary was that mother mild’, we sing in another. Gentle Mary – mild, meek, the handmaid of the Lord, head bowed in reverence. Can’t you see her there in so many paintings, stained glass windows, and Christmas cards?

But this is not the real Mary that we meet in her own words. The Magnificat is no sweet lullaby - it is a battle cry, bold and defiant. Secure in her faith in God as her Saviour, she cries out ‘From now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name’. She is certain that God cares for the poor, the powerless, the hungry, those with least in society, as he cares for her: ‘He 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’.

We short-change Mary when we idealise her as meek and mild. The real Mary was a fighter, fierce for God’s justice and righteousness. This is how we should remember her, and why we should revere her.

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