One of the best things about attending Princeton Theological Seminary was its proximity to NYC and Broadway. I love Broadway musicals, and one of my favorites is Les Miserables. It is a powerful story of despair, forgiveness, repentance, and hope.
One of my favorite songs from the show is “At the End of the Day.” It is sung by the ensemble of the poor people of Montreuil-sur-Mer. They sing that at the end of the day they have spent, another day ignored, another day fighting for the basic necessities of life. They are another day colder another day closer to death. Such was and is often the life of the poor.
At the end of the day, we may think nothing better will come tomorrow, that life is just an endless string of similar days with their struggles, routines, and trivialities. I wonder what Mary thought at the end of her days before the angel Gabriel appeared to her. She was one of the poor of Nazareth, struggling to get by every day. At the end of the day, what were Mary’s hope and dreams?
I don’t know what Mary sang about at the end of the day before she met the heavenly messenger, but I do know what she sang about afterwards. Unlike the bitterness, anger, and despair of “At the End of the Day,” Mary’s song, typically called the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) for the first word of the Latin translation, is one of hope and change. It is one of the few times Mary speaks in the Gospels, and, she sings. She sings of what God is doing: lifting up the lowly, scattering the proud, filling the hungry, and sending the rich away empty. She sings in the present tense, but none of those things were happening right then. Rulers weren’t being pulled from their thrones, and the world wasn’t being turned on its head.
Mary is not singing about what is happening right now but about what is sure to happen even now. She sings a song of certain hope. Mary knows what it’s like to be at the bottom, to be poor, to be looked down upon and judged, and she will know what it is like to have a sword pierce her soul. Mary had not had an easy life, and she wasn’t being promised one either. Yet, at the end of the day she still sings because she knows God is with her even in the midst of pain and struggle, just as God has always been with the people of Israel. She knows God fulfils God’s promises. Her song isn’t about finding the silver lining or about putting a good face on a bad situation. The situation may remain bad, and things may even get worse at the end of the day, but she sings out of a certain hope. Her song is about a certain future in which God takes an active role and works God’s purposes out. She sings in the present because she knows the future: God will end oppression, God will feed the poor, and God will lift up the lowly.
At the end of the day Mary sings of a new day. This is what Advent is really all about — a turning point. A promised new day of God with us, reigning in our hearts and reigning in the world as the Kingdom of Heaven breaks into our lives. Let’s make Mary’s song our song this Advent and sing of God’s faithfulness, promises, and the new day that is and is yet to be.