By: The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram
The Magnificat is one of my favorite passages to preach on, but I must admit (as a not faithful lectionary preacher) that I reference it just as often outside of the Advent season as I do within the Advent season. The song of Mary is an all-year-around text, to be sure. In my context, I believe we would do this passage a disservice by limiting it to being just a prelude to the Christmas story.
I believe the Magnificat is a powerful example of the prophetic witness of youth in our world, and as a college chaplain, I am eager to herald Mary’s song as a testimony to the young people who know the world is not as it should be.
In this song attributed to Mary, she proclaims that God “has scattered the proud in their conceit…cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly…filled the hungry with good things, and the rich God has sent away empty.”
And yet, we know that Mary would have been a young to middling teenager, and even though age has different symbolic meaning during that time, she is still an example of youthfulness proclaiming the justice of God. And it is not only her age that makes her a remarkable example in this way, but her gender as well. She joins the cloud of women witnesses throughout scripture who testify to the goodness of God.
The prophetic witness of young people is an important motivator of social change in society. Youth provides the conditions in which a distaste for injustice coincides with the imagination for change. This stands in stark contrast of those who have grown accustomed to the status quo—who even if they do not like it, have found ways to complacently exist in static systems. Young people have no such patience or expired optimism, but instead, see the world with fresh eyes and can imagine new ways forward.
I think of John Lewis who was only 25 when he was beaten in Selma.
I think of Emma Gonzalez, who was only 18 when she called “B.S.” on the lack of political will to change the gun laws.
I think of Greta Thunberg who addressed the United Nations, pleading for climate change attention, at only age 16.
I think of those people we all know as public inspirations, yes, but I also think of my students who will not make the news but are making a difference every day. I think of the students who are hosting club meetings at night to talk about intersectionality and how to advocate for each other across identity categories. I think of the students who, when invited to share their experiences with injustice on campus to the board of trustees and the college president, respond boldly and courageously to speak truth to power. I think of teenagers who are blowing apart the gender and sexuality binaries and replacing them with freedom.
What’s so beautiful about the Magnificat is that Mary was also an unknown young woman—who rather than questioning her own strength for the task ahead—took the news of the pregnancy and praised God and testified to the power of God to redeem an unjust world.
Advent is primetime in our churches. What if we use this week to lift up the youth of our society, not to place undue burden on them, but to celebrate who they are in our world now and what they bring to us? Are we listening to what they tell us about the divine power in the world? And when we listen, do we affirm them not only as the future, but as the present?
Our biblical tradition honors Mary as a young woman who stood confidently in the conviction that God had a plan for justice in the world and that she was part of it. Not in the future, but now. May we use this opportunity to honor the young people and their vision for our world.
The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram is Director of Religious Life and College Chaplain of Franklin College. She lives with her spouse in Franklin, Indiana. Her 2020 hobbies include sending mail, spending all social time with only a scarce few people outside, and watching uplifting comedies like Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso on repeat.