Posted: 20 December 2015

Advent: More than a woman’s song

Mary, a young girl, praises God for all that he has done for her, despite her circumstances. John Bell explores her exhortation, how it celebrates women, and points to the goodness of God in this instalment of the Advent calendar.


There is only one woman in the whole of scripture who is called 'blessed among women.'

That is Mary. Her words in the text itself are:

                                    ‘My soul magnifies the Lord

                                    and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.’

The Magnificat is a woman's song. 

But more than a woman's song, it is a manifesto of how women may understand God. It sums up the experience and insight of women......especially the biblical women about whom we know little or nothing.

The lectionary – the calendar of public readings which the church follows - has been commonly selected by men. Thus (innocently or intentionally) the woman's experience of and witness to God has been not so much airbrushed out as avoided.

Female Hebrew Heroes

Due to this removal of women's experiences in the Biblical stories we hear in church, we may not be familiar with:

Shiphrah, Puah,  Jochebed and Miriam - two midwives and a mother and daughter who defied the command of the Egyptian Pharaoh to kill Jewish babies at birth. Without them there would have been no Moses.

Tamar - a woman who was duped by her husband and threatened with death by her father-in-law, yet who prevailed against her male antagonists.

The Daughters of Zelophehad - who ensured that hereditary property rights allowed daughters as well as sons to inherit their fathers' estate.

Abigail - who was married to an arrogant man, who denied hospitality to David and his men; he would have been annihilated along with his servants, had Abigail not saved his skin by offering the hospitality he had refused.                

Rizpah - who so humiliated David when he was king that he felt obliged to give a decent burial to innocent men he had ordered to be slaughtered.

The unnamed woman of Abel-Bethmaacah - who, when the local militia proved useless, saved their city from being destroyed.

Esther - who prevented the genocide of her nation.

The text of the Magnificat depicts God:

                                    He has shown strength with his arm;

                                    he has scattered the proud with all their schemes.

                                    He has brought down the powerful from their thrones

                                    and raised up the lowly.

                                    He has filled the hungry with good things

                                    and sent the rich away empty.

Women Jesus extolled

Keep these table-turning statements in mind, as we remember the lowly women whom Jesus praised, often to the chagrin of men who belittled them.

In the face of a wealthy host who at a lavish banquet identified love in the generous action of a call girl.

In the face of a crowd of religious men who were tight packed round him, he identified faith in a haemorrhaging woman who pushed her way through the crowd to touch him.

In contrast to the wealthy pietists who were impressing each other with their charitable giving, he identified the true philanthropist in a widow who had only copper coins to offer.

To the astonishment of his disciples who were critical of him conversing with a foreign woman at a well, he found in her his first evangelist.

And when the men were all wondering how Jesus might be saved from impending death, it was a woman, a roman governor's wife, who alone tried to prevent the crucifixion.


The Magnificat celebrates:

that God does not subscribe to the conventional notions of

                                    who are winners and losers

                                    who are the top dogs

                                    and who just run in the pack

                                    who are the exemplars of generosity, determination and faith

                                    and who are the also rans.

Jesus does not promote men's names to the top of the list of dramatis personnae leaving women to play the lesser roles. And women whose witness with the Holy Spirit contribute to celebrate the turning of the tables, the usurping of conventional respectability, in the text which we call the Magnificat.

So, this Advent let us say goodnight and goodbye to the small, predictable deity made in the image of men. And instead cherish the shock and awe of a God who is always bigger than our best thought of him.



By Hannah Flynn

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