Fifteen years ago this December I was pregnant with our first child. I was in seminary in New Jersey and was in my first preaching class. For our first sermon we were randomly assigned a passage about Advent and the Incarnation. The passage I drew was the Magnificat from the second chapter of Luke. Although I had taught school for years, including Old and New Testament, this was the first assignment in which I was called to preach. (although in front of only about a dozen of my fellow students).
I eagerly dove into the depths of this song of praise while simultaneously feeling my daughter moving inside of me. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” I couldn’t help but echo that sentiment in my own life as I waited to meet the blessing inside of me. Mary proclaimed this after she had spent time with her cousin Elizabeth and together they experienced joy and anticipation that God was at work. He was doing something extraordinary. “For he has looked on the humble estate of his servant”. This extraordinary event was taking place through a regular person, but not just any regular person, a young woman. She was not royalty or anything special by the day’s standards. “For he who is mighty has done great things for me.” What I found so striking then is that in choosing this young woman in which to grow our Savior, God also gave Mary a voice. A powerful voice. Her testimony would be like no other and she was empowered and emboldened to proclaim truth that women and men alike will have in their hearts for eternity. In her famous song she speaks of the character of God:
His mercy is for those who fear Him
He has shown strength
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
During that Christmas season I did feel a different connection to Mary than I had felt before. Writing a sermon about the Magnificat while contemplating new life within my own womb led me to worship. My soul sang, “for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” It is no small thing that as women we are able to bear children. I am convinced it is one of the unique ways women have a voice in this world.
Fast forward 15 years and this Fall I was severely disappointed by a well known pastor (and therefore brother) that I have admired for decades. This man chose to publicly disparage an influential and faithful female teacher in our shared Christian faith. I am not sure why this particular event was so painful for me personally. My heart broke for this woman whom I have never met. I felt such disappointment in the male leadership at the event. I played the video of his words over and over. I guess I was hoping to find out that it was a mistake. Surely these men, my brothers, did not mean to disparage her so arrogantly. Their posture was shocking. Without getting too far into the details of the event, the pastor said the woman should “go home” in a harsh, mocking tone. (rather than have a voice in the public square).
I began to pour over the scriptures to find the places in which a woman’s voice was found. I believe scripture teaches a woman’s voice should be found in our homes, every bit as much as scripture teaches a man’s voice should be found in our homes. As I searched the scriptures I found her voice in public square and I found her voice in the marketplace. I found her voice in the assembly and her voice in the home. I found her voice ministering with Paul and her voice speaking to Jesus. I found her voice raising Timothy and her voice telling the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. And then, Advent. I was drawn back to the beautiful voice of Mary, mother of my Savior. And God our Father thrust her out of her home so that she could proclaim His mighty works in every arena of life.
Mary proclaimed that God’s hand in her life would cause others to call her blessed.
Mary proclaimed for whom was God’s mercy.
Mary proclaimed what God does to the proud (some men should listen carefully)
Mary proclaimed God’s strength
Mary proclaimed what God does to the mighty
Mary proclaimed what God does for the hungry and what he does to the rich.
Mary proclaimed that God speaks to his people.
In her lowly state, in her nothingness, God’s greatness is magnified and we are led to worship.
Fifteen years ago the day came for me to give my first sermon. I am no preacher but on that day the Holy Spirit used my voice to lead others to ponder the greatness of God demonstrated through the words of young Mary. With one hand on my belly I spoke the words of Luke Chapter 2. I felt her fearfulness found in Luke 1 that says she was deeply troubled. I imagined an angel comforting her and telling her that nothing is impossible with God. He was bringing new life and everlasting life. I spoke the truth found in her words proclaiming the faithfulness of God. When my sermon was over my professor, Cleophus LaRue, asked me a question I will never forget. He asked me, “Young lady, are you going to be a preacher?” I told him that I was not going to be one. He then said, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you do not have a voice because you are a woman.” Those words have stayed with me as I have sought to be a faithful voice in the places to which I have been called.
My daughter is now 14 years old. One of my prayers for her is that she would recognize the powerful voice she has been given as a “regular” young lady who has been created and rescued by a loving and powerful God. My hope is that she will delight in proclaiming God’s mighty acts as much as Mary did so long ago. That she will use her voice to fight injustice, speak out against hypocrisy, and elevate the status of the outcast and the marginalized…just like her Savior did.