I’ve always been captivated by the Mother Mary’s role in the Christmas story. While the conception and birth of Jesus Christ was certainly miraculous, I can’t help but wonder how Mary felt. Was she scared? Hesitant? Confident? When I was cast as Mary in the Martinez family Christmas musical, I got to put myself into the shoes of the holy mother.
Every year at the Martinez family’s Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) celebration, my cousins and I would put together a Nativity musical. While our uncles were cooking the lechon asada (roasted pork) in the backyard and the rest of the parent’s gossiped while making the congri, platanos maduros, and Cuban bread - the cousins and I were busy at work getting ready for our grand performance. We’re quite the theatrical family, and the Christmas musical in my grandparent’s basement was the highlight of the holiday festivities.
After our delicious dinner and a couple helpings of flan, our huge Cuban family would hunker downstairs for the show. My grandparents lived on a farm in Central Florida, but we had a strict “no goats in the house policy” so unfortunately, our nativity didn’t have any live animals. My brother and cousins, who played the shepherds, sang “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and used golf clubs as their shepherds staffs. We had angels, a manger, and a real baby Jesus! Our youngest newborn cousin Adam played Jesus, and my main role was to keep him from fussing as my cousin who played the angel Gabriel sang “what Child Is This”.
After the musical, my Tios would bring out the guitars and bongo drums and we’d sing Christmas songs in Spanglish. The joy and love is tangible in the room as the basement filled with songs before we exchanged presents (you’d always get to open one gift on the night of Noche Buena).
We’ve all grown up, and some of the cousins have children of their own. While we’re all a little too old for our annual Christmas nativity, the tios still bring out the guitar and bongos and we sing Feliz Navidad and Noche de Paz. It’s been many years since I played the mother Mary in our nativity musical, but I am still captivated by her, especially Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55. In her Magnificat, Mary’s beautiful response to the angel Gabriel, she doesn’t express fear, hesitancy, or anger. Rather, she is joyful!
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.”
Mary willingly and joyfully responds to the Angel Gabriel’s news that she will bear a son and name Him Jesus with the words: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” This is Mary’s magnificent yes, followed by her joyful song proclaiming the great things her son will do. He will show mercy to the poor, scatter the proud, bring down rulers from their thrones, feed the hungry, and fulfill the promises made to God’s people. This is a triumphant song that foretells of Jesus’ justice and compassion.
This Advent season, as we await the birth of Jesus Christ, my hope is that we echo Mary’s magnificent “yes” with joy. I hope that God’s people choose to say yes to doing justice, showing mercy, and speaking truth. It’s easy to be disheartened by cynicism and hopelessness, but like Mary, we are invited to answer God’s call with joy. I long for the unbridled joy I had as a child, celebrating Christmas with my cousins oblivious to the problems of this world. But there are many children who are far from oblivious to the injustices that many families face. I pray that God grants us the courage of Mary, who responds to this weighty call with a spirit of rejoicing. What a joy it is to do the work God calls us to do: to care for the marginalized and expose the powers and principalities that stifle child-like joy. Mary’s Song reminds us that we can do hard and holy things in joy. May it be so.
Amy Scroggin Armistead is the pastor of two rural churches in Alabama, Verbena and Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church. She also serves as the Site Coordinator of Communities of Transformation in Montgomery, AL. Communities of Transformation seeks to alleviate poverty in Alabama through authentic relationships and hope-filled community. Originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Amy comes from a large Cuban family and while at Duke Divinity School, participated in the Hispanic House of Studies.