Her picture popped up on my computer screen this week after clicking on an email from a friend—a sweet, but seemingly exhausted, 5-year-old Honduran refugee. The email author: a Street Psalms’ friend and InnerCHANGE missionary, Nate Bacon. He had joined up with the caravan of Central American immigrants on their Northward trek to the U.S. When he finally caught up with them in Huixtla, Mexico he did not find a “band of marauding criminals” nor a “threatening throng of terrorists,” but “groups of family members of all ages set on pursuing life.”
The young girl in the picture had offered to sing Nate a “praise song.” The English translation goes something like this:
“I saw you yesterday…I saw you crying… asking God for a miracle. And you cry for my loneliness, my loneliness, Jesus.
There is no glory without the desert…there is no victory without tears first. Even though the path has been difficult, I know that He, I know that He will never abandon me.”
This song of scandalous hope so beautifully captures the essence of Mary and Elizabeth’s encounter from our Gospel passage this week.
They are both pregnant, awaiting new life, but under very different circumstances: one was “too old” while the other was scandalously unmarried. They were both migrating from the known to the unknown, under varying degrees of duress. Yet, against all odds, they joined in a holy and hopeful duet in light of the new life that was to come.
When they meet, Elizabeth, the elder, sings first. Hers is a song of affirmation and acceptance. She sees the movement of God in Mary’s life in a way that many cannot. Where others see scandal, she sees the sacred. It is this song of grace that frees Mary to vocalize her half of the duet—what we know today as The Magnificat.
And vocalize she does; lyrics of hope spring forth from the soul of a young girl who discovers herself on the inside of a mystery far beyond her comprehension—a mystery that perhaps, while holding promise for the salvation of her nation, also has the potential to banish her from the community she loves. No wonder she reaches for poetry instead of prose.
I’m struck by the liturgical potency of this duet: Elizabeth’s acceptance and affirmation opens the door for the unsettling Good News of the scandal that brings true life.
And for me personally, during this Advent season, it begs the question, “What does it look like today to receive and affirm this scandalous mother and her unsettlingly hopeful song? Who are the scandalized that I should welcome with grace and hospitality as opposed to rivalry and scarcity? What does it mean to let go of fear in order to literally see, and embrace, the hope of salvation in the midst of scandal?
As I ponder, I’m reminded of another young girl I met once in Santo Domingo. During a leadership training, I was invited with Senior Fellow Mario Matos to meet sex workers with whom a local church was building relationships. The impromptu gathering turned into a mini-worship service. A 16-year-old named Esther asked to sing us a song she had learned as a little girl called “Siete Veces:”
“Love you my brother, my brother. God is with you. Persevere in the church for the end is near. If you fall 7 times, 7 times God will lift you up. Move on towards the goal that is very near.”
Two thousand years ago, from the Hill Country of Judea, two women sang hopeful songs of transformation. Today, similar scandalous songs of Hope spring forth from 5-year-old Hondurans in refugee caravans in Mexico and 16-year-old sex workers on the streets of Santo Domingo. Are we ready to listen and receive the Good News?
Today it is time to listen—next week it will be time to sing with them!