I have always loved how, in Luke’s gospel, the story of the Annuciation is followed by Mary’s canticle in which she praises God who “puts down the mighty from their thrones.” Some scripture scholars think the song may be Luke’s own addition. Perhaps. I am not a scripture scholar. But as a mother of three, I wonder if those who don’t see a connection between pregnancy and hope in God’s justice are missing something.
Pregnancy is all about hope. I remember when my husband and I were waiting for a sign of our first child. When it came, we were overjoyed. In a few weeks, we had reason to suspect a miscarriage. It was during a month that I was between jobs and without health insurance. I went to a free clinic and the nurse there confirmed our fears. We were devastated. A few weeks later I returned to a regular doctor. Suspicious of the clinic’s conclusion, she hooked up a sonogram, and there on the screen was a beating heart. We were having a baby after all. Our hoped for future together was beginning. In the weeks that followed, our joy continued as I felt and saw my baby swimming in my womb.
But pregnancy is not all joy. It involves sickness that is not limited to mornings, fatigue, and giving up wine, coffee, and your figure. Pregnancy requires a certain measure of self-emptying. It is all about hope, but it is a hope that requires us to change.
Perhaps this is why Mary can sing about God and about justice. She has just been told that she is pregnant with the one who will come to save her people. How can she not sing? How can she not be afraid? How can she not think that God– whose greatness she has always heard about—is not asking her to be faithful in a fundamentally new way?
Pregnancy and birth are our symbols of hope. In the dark of winter we tell a story about the future. About a child growing in a young woman’s womb. About a young woman who sings, “my soul proclaims greatness of the Lord.” About a God who “will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty.” About a pregnant woman who, like the prophets of old, is ready to join in working for God’s reign of justice. Her “deed of hope will never be forgotten.”
If there is any good time to say “we’re pregnant,” it’s now, in Advent, as we claim the same joy, the same faith, and the same hope.
Today, we can listen to Mary’s story again and remember that her response to the angel is not simply submission to God’s will, though of course it is that, too. Mary, as Elizabeth Johnson so beautifully points out in Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of the Saints, speaks a prophet who, like all the prophets of old, calls the people to remember the least. Those of us who count ourselves followers of the one she carried have an obligation to listen not just to her yes to God, but to her song.