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Singing in the Darkness

Thomas J Parlette

“Singing in the Darkness”

Luke 1: 46-55


Martin Luther once said in a Christmas sermon that three miracles occurred at Christ’s nativity: God became human, a virgin conceived, and Mary believed.(1)

It is nothing short of a miracle that Mary believed everything the Angel Gabriel told her. It is also a miracle that Mary is able to sing this song of praise and gratitude that we know as The Magnificat.

Here she is, a 13 year old girl, pregnant and not yet technically married. This could have spelled doom for Mary. By law, she could have been stoned to death. But since Joseph was a compassionate and merciful man – “righteous”, as Matthew puts it – he does not pursue his rights under the law, and instead, he does what an angel has told him to do in a dream. He takes Mary as his wife.

I have no doubt that this was a difficult thing for both Mary and Joseph. I’m sure there were a lot of awkward silences as they both came to grips with this mysterious situation. I’m sure that Mary had her days that were filled with anxiety and worry as she and Joseph endured the village gossip and the sideways glances. As joyous as a birth can be – it does come with some moments of fear and trembling as well. I’m sure Mary had her share of dark days as she thought about the birth to come and what it would mean for her life.

And yet, with Elizabeth’s help, Mary finds a way to sing in the midst of her darkness. Elizabeth calls her blessed three times – perhaps it took that many times for it to really sink in. Finally Mary comes to see that yes indeed she is blessed. Not because this is a great situation – not because this is what she would have chosen for her life, but because God has chosen to use her in the divine plan of redemption. In this pregnancy, God says, “I’m coming into the world, Mary. And I want your help.”

This fills Mary with joy. A joy that could only be expressed in song. She sings “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… All generations will call me blessed… God has done great things for me… God has kept his promises.”

Adam Hamilton in his book “Walking the Road to Bethlehem” writes about Mary’s joy. He says, “Joy, unlike happiness, can come to us independent of our circumstances. Joy comes not from changing our circumstances but from viewing then through the eyes of faith.”

He goes on to tell about a trip he once took to Malawi, Africa to visit rural villages and explore the possibility of partnering with local congregations to build wells, schools and churches. In one of the villages, the people, who earn about 55 cents per person per day, took him to a stream of green, brackish water that they used for drinking, cooking and cleaning. They asked if his congregation would consider helping them build a well, so their children might not get sick from the water anymore.

Afterwards, the villagers took him on a tour of their village and their church. The church was a mud brick building – just a large room with open holes where windows might go. The room was dark, with just a bit of light coming in through the gaps in the thatched roof. But then the people began to worship. In the darkness they sang songs of joy because they trusted God, and they believed that these people from America had come to help them have safe drinking water. In the darkness they sang because God provides.

Mary, despite dangers, fears, risks, and upended dreams, “magnified the Lord and rejoiced in God.” She did this with the help of Elizabeth and with her own willingness to trust that God was working in and through her to accomplish God’s purposes.

The kind of joy that prompted Mary to sing is a choice we make when we look at our present circumstances, dark as they may be, through the eyes of faith, trusting that God is at work and God will never leave us nor abandon us. (2)

Helmut Nausner is a well known Methodist pastor who lives in Austria. He tells about Christmas Eve during the Nazi occupation when he was very young. His father was away, so his mother gathered the children around her to read the Christmas story and to pray. As they did, they could hear the soldiers out in the darkness, just outside their windows, marching through the streets, patrolling the curfew and enforcing the orders forbidding religious celebrations. The family sat in the darkness being as quiet as they could.

During the reading and praying, young Helmut remembers wondering about music. Music was always a part of their services. Poor as they were, they had a piano that was used for the house services where his father preached and his mother played the hymns. Helmut knew his mother loved Christmas music, but surely the soldiers would hear them singing. He wondered, what would they do to us?

When they finished the readings and the prayers, Helmuts sister asked, “Mother, aren’t we going to sing.” And with hardly a moment’s hesitation, his mother answered, “Tonight we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child into our world. He came that we might never be afraid any more. Of course we are going to sing.”

And she gathered her children around her and in the darkness they sang, “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. Come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.”(3)

Even though we may face dark, empty, uncertain times in our lives, we can still feel the same joy Mary felt if we remind ourselves that God is always with us and is always working to accomplish great things through us. And the best way to remind ourselves of God’s presence is to sing, even in the darkness.

May God be praised. Amen.

1.    William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 43, No. 4, p.51.

2.    Adam Hamilton, Walking the Road to Bethlehem, Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 78-79.

3.    Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXI, No. 4, p. 73-74.