Mary: A Voice for the voiceless
By Pastor Fred Strickert
Just a month ago on Nov. 20, a number of us were gathered at the Dominican Church of St. Stephen for a Sabeel sponsored service of prayer for the people of Gaza who had suffered greatly in the war that was still taking place. The news reports that had come out were staggered that one third of the fatalities were children, innocent and tragically having their lives cut short–no less tragically than the twenty children in Connecticut last week. Children whose voices will never again be heard on the playgrounds. Children who would never grow to voice their hopes and dreams, never to voice their vision for a better world. And so we were gathered to give the voiceless a voice, to pray for all who suffer unjustly. Coincidentally this prayer service was scheduled on November 20 which is the UN International day for the rights of children.
And so it was appropriate that a 10-year old boy had been chosen to speak at the service on behalf of children everywhere, to give voice for those who are ignored by the rulers of our world and the power brokers, to give voice for those who had lost their voice. There he was, sitting in the front row of the church with his mother, proud and excited for this special moment. When it finally arrived, his mother walked up to the lectern with him, and helped him unfold the piece of paper with the words they had carefully written out, he stood there looking out at the congregation of adults waiting in anticipation, a half dozen photographers snapped his picture, flashing lights in his eyes, finally he opened his mouth, but nothing would come out. His mother put her arm around him and nodded in encouragement, but again he opened his mouth and nothing came out. He was so overcome with emotion and the fear of expectations, and he just couldn’t speak. His mother understanding what she must do, took the paper and read the words for him, giving him voice when he had no voice.
When I read the story of Mary in Luke 1, I stand in awe of this young girl, only a few years older that the boy at the prayer service. I stand in awe of Mary who was a peasant girl living in a time and place when girls were not taught to read and write. I stand in awe of her because she lived in an occupied land, filled with soldiers who threatened and intimidated. I stand in awe because, I cannot imagine how I would have reacted under these circumstances, having to respond to a heavenly announcement through God’s own messenger Gabriel, having to accept responsibility for the news he had to offer, having to articulate this amazing theological undertaking before her cousin Elisabeth. I can’t imagine how my mouth would have produced a voice. But hers did, her mouth opened, and she voiced ten of the most memorable verses of the Bible, the magnificent Magnifcat.
It’s all the more admirable, when we contrast Mary’s voice with that of Zechariah whose voice went silent under similar circumstances. Zechariah, the priest, Zechariah, the mature, experienced leader, Zechariah the public speaker, Zechariah, a representative of the religious establishment, the kind of person who would seem acquainted with divine language and callings from God, Zechariah who surely had handy a pocket sized prayer book with nice things to say on every occasion. But it didn’t work that way. In response to his encounter with the angel, he opened his mouth and nothing came out, no words, no voice, only silence.
So the juxtaposition of these two episodes in Luke chapter one, make the voice of Mary all the more surprising and admirable, as she gives voice not only for her feelings from the depth of her soul to magnify God,
• but as she gives voice also for the Zechariahs and Elisabeths who were and are today unable to speak for whatever reason,
• as she gives voice for the Zechariahs filled with doubt and lacking in confidence and courage to speak,
• as she gives voice for the Elisabeths, whose adherence to social and cultural norms, leave them in seclusion and submissive silence,
• as she gives voice to all the women who for generations kept silence in their churches and places of worship,
• as she gives voice to all the lowly who feel that because of their station in life they cannot gain influence,
• as she gives voice to all the hungry who fear their calls for justice will leave them worse off,
• as she gives voice to the powerless who are intimidated daily by the weapons and threats of the powerful,
• as she gives voice to the children of the world whose voices are neglected, ignored, or drowned out my the misplaced priorities of decision makers,
• as she gives voice to the thousands, the millions of the voiceless of this world.
Advent is all about “The voice.” From 2nd Isaiah, half a millennium earlier who cried out Comfort, Comfort my people, and who announced that comfort will come through a voice—A voice crying out for all to hear: Prepare the way of the Lord. And then the announcement about John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness. It’s about the voices of angels and their heavenly messengers, and it’s about the voice of Mary giving voice when the mouths of others open, but are voiceless.
Mary’s are words about the past actions of God, which nevertheless articulate the promise for our future, words about justice and peace. Words of joy, Words of hope. Words that give us confidence that God is a God of grace who looks with favor on the lowly, on those left behind, on those who in the way of our world have no voice.
Mary’s song gives voice for us, on our behalf, when we have been able to speak. And at the same time Mary’s song gives voice for us to be a voice for others, those in our society who have no voice.
We are called to open out mouths with Mary and to give voice to our feelings from the bottom of our souls, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”