The Hope of Mary


Luke 1:46–55: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

I have recently been listening to a podcast called According to Need. It is not a long series, just five episodes, but there is so much packed into those five episodes. The podcast follows the lives of numerous people who are experiencing homelessness, and how they navigate the system and try to find things like housing. The podcast also takes a hard look at the system — particularly in regards to housing — and how hard it is for people to actually get the housing they need. As someone who has listened to and read a whole lot of unfair or just outright demanding journalism in regards to homelessness, this podcast was a breath of fresh air. And it hit close to home, so if you are at all interested in what I do with the other half of my vocational work at Aurora Commons, give it a listen.

In the last episode of the series, the host, Katie Mingle, is at an encampment in Berkeley, CA. There are around sixty people in this encampment, and it is by an overpass on land governed by the CA Department of Transportation, knows as CALTRANS. A vicious cycle that has happened here — and indeed in places like this all over the country — is that every few months, CALTRANS post an order to leave the property, and on the day posted, they show up with police, and anything the people cannot carry with them goes into the garbage trucks to be hauled away.

This is not unique and happens here in Seattle all the time. I have spent hours upon hours working with people trying to replace documents and other items thrown out during these sweeps.

But on this particular day, the people camped in Berkeley had had enough. There were tired of being swept around when they had no other place to go, and no housing available to them. Every time the sweeps happened before, they would always ask, “Where can we go and be safe?”, and would be met with no answers.

So this day, they decided to stay and stand their ground. As a form of protest, they decided rather than to have all their stuff packing on the day of the sweep like they usually did, they would just stay in their tents and refuse to move.

The day of the sweep came, and Katie, along with a longtime legal advocate for people experiencing homelessness, Osha Neumann, were there to watch what happened. He was a lawyer who had been fighting these kinds of sweeps for years and had seen them happen countless times.

But as they watched the events unfold, something remarkable happened. The police and CALTRANS backed down. Being met with resistance, they backed down and left. And as there were doing so, the joy in Osha’s voice could not be hidden. You could almost hear tears in his eyes. At one point he says, and I will not be able to do it justice:

“Oh, it’s incredible! It never has happened before. The people have resisted! The people on the street resisted. And won! It just has never happened. They’ve always moved. Every time they’ve been pushed around and moved, they’ve moved. And this time they won.”

They go on to talk about the reality that, yes, they might have won that day, but CALTRANS will likely be back. But this day, a group of people on the margins of society, the poorest of the poor in that area, stood up to two large and well-funded government institutions, and succeed in staying on the land with what little belongings they had.

Today our text is Luke 1:39–56 and contains a beautiful prophetic poem known as Mary’s Magnificat. Here we catch a glimpse of the kind of world that might be possible with the coming of Jesus. And in one part of this poem, Mary makes the profound — and dangerous — proclamation that in the kingdom of God, the powerful will lose their thrones, and the powerless will be raised up. Those promoting oppression will lose their power, and those longing for liberation will find it. These are statements that, during the occupation of Rome in this first-century time, could get you in trouble.

Yet Mary, this teenage girl with little power in her world, boldly proclaims them.

And as I listened to that group of people in Berkeley resist being moved even though they have nowhere to go, people with very little power in our society, I could hear the words of Mary echoing through time. I could see her words being embodied by a small group of homeless people just trying to survive.

There are many ways you could preach about this small but powerful text. But this year, I could think of nothing but this grand reversal of power. As I thought about the last few weeks, I could not help but see Mary everywhere.

As I sat watching congress debate giving struggling and starving Americans a mere $600, while having no issue giving billions of dollars to overseas wars, I thought of Mary.

When I sat with one of my friends who lives on the streets of Aurora Ave, and listened as he told me about his disabilities and his health concerns, and how, in spite of all of that, he is still not eligible for housing, I thought of Mary.

When I was reminded that the death toll of COVID is over 300,000 in America — where other counties have been able to keep the numbers down and care for their citizens — and watching so many people, from political leaders to next-door neighbors, seem to care very little for these deaths, I thought about Mary.

And today, when I looked at my daughter Liv, my amazing and smart and wise daughter Liv, and thought about how our society treats people with disabilities, and about how her ability to have access to healthcare is debated by politicians making millions of dollars a year, I thought of Mary.

Mary invites us toward a world where people with great power and resources and privilege are forced to come to terms with the reality that amassing these things is not only soul-destroying but often comes at the expense and exploitation of the poor and oppressed. And where those who are poor — or have little social or political power — are able to powerfully hold their voice and agency and are empowered to be who they are called to be in our world.

If you are thinking this sounds great, but what in the world are we supposed to do, when these injustices you point out are not only huge, and also embedded in our social and political systems? What possible can a small group of people committed to the way of Jesus do to live out the hope of Mary in her song?

We can choose, as that small group of people did in Berkeley, to find creative ways to love our neighbors. We can ask, where can I, in my own life, stand up for people who are hurting or oppressed? We can embody a practice of holistic prayer that doesn’t stop until our neighbors are fed and housed. We can find new and creative ways to use our resources and time and collaborate with our neighborhoods for the good of our community.

I am convinced that the churches that survive — and thrive — in this next chapter of America will be the churches that faithfully embody the Hope of Mary in Luke 1, and take her call to live into the good news of God’s love and justice in our world.

I end with a quote from Sara Miles:

“At the heart of Christianity is a power that continues to speak to and transform us. As I found to my surprise and alarm, it could speak even to me: not in the sappy, Jesus-and-cookies tone of mild-mannered liberal Christianity, or the blustering, blaming hellfire of the religious right.

What I heard, and continue to hear, is a voice that can crack religious and political convictions open, that advocates for the least qualified, least official, least likely; that upsets the established order and makes a joke of certainty. It proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new.

It offers food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and pious, and then commands everyone to do the same.” -Sara Miles, Take This Bread



Pastor — Queen Anne Christian Church

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