Today the header image is part of the nativity fresco by Giotto. The midwife (!) is handing the baby Jesus to Mary.
The readings are from the Catholic ectionary for daily mass while the hadline is meant to keep my thinking real:
KIM JONG-UN DENIES CYBER ATTACK ON SONY
Luke 1:46-56 ©
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
I’m on record as interpreting Luke’s nativity stories as splendid inventions which tell the reader “what’s really happening” in the birth of Jesus. That doesn’t rule out the presence of historical fact in the stories. I think it’s quite likely that Jesus was born into a Galilean clan whose tough young women hoped to be “the mother of messiah” Mary and her relative Elizabeth show this kind of passionate expectation which makes the male of the species almost irrelevant to their pregnancies. In Mary’s case, Luke tells us that she is a virgin whom God’s spirit will overshadow; but he does not like Matthew explicitly rule out Joseph’s part in the conception of Jesus. Nevertheless, the focus is on the woman as the bearer of God’s child.
The song of Mary is an expression of fierce joy in God’s overturning of worldly status. The handmaiden, that is the female slave, often used for sex by the master of the house, she the woman of no status, has been honoured as the mother of God’s messiah. The song takes this special grace as typical of Israel’s God, who puts down the mighty, lifts up the downtrodden feeds the hungry and dismisses the rich; rejects arrogance and favours modesty. She speaks as mother Israel, celebrating her God who has chosen her rather than any of the superpowers of the world, to be the channel of his goodness.
I should probably make all kinds of theoogical points about this song, but what comes to my mind is the memory of the working class Scottish women I’ve known, bringing up children without much help from their various partners. Tough, proud, stubborn and invincible, they endured the neglect of the state and the prejudice of the better-off; managed the daily struggle for survival; cursed, wept over and loved their children, creating some goodness for them and through them. These are the ones by whom God brings down the mighty.
I’ve read somewhere that the Emperor Constantine who had become a believer and made Christianity the favoured religion of the Roman Empire, once heard his chaplain reading Mary’s Song as part of worship. He was so shocked by its content that he tried to ban its use other than in his palace. The embarrassed cleric had to explain that it was part of the Holy Scripture of his adopted religion. I wish that all of today’s tyrants, from the ludicrous Kim Jong-un to the thugs who control most of the world’s capital might likewise hear this Christmas message and tremble.