Our friends have come together to recite the Magnificat for our Christmas Appeal.
Be of good cheer!
However you experience Advent and Christmas, we offer an invitation, not to be forced into a false cheerfulness, but to stop and listen to a song – the Magnificat. To let its words of joy and justice set a different rhythm and tune for this season, so often drowned out by a cacophony of commercialism.
It’s the song of a young woman first heard by an older woman, but who has been heard and understood by ‘all those whose dreams and yearnings are given voice in its words’. It’s a song so subversive and radical it was banned in Guatemala for fear it might inspire the oppressed people to riot. ‘A more revolutionary tune could not be found in world literature or music!’
Mary’s song, or the Magnificat, is a radical and revolutionary song of joy and justice, an anthem for women and other oppressed groups seeking to uproot the structures and systems that keep them on the margins of society and denied a full and free life.
Joy and justice
Mary sings for the proud to be scattered, the powerful to be brought down from their thrones, the rich to be sent away empty. It is a song that rails against inequality, but ‘is not the song of a victim but one that proclaims liberation with tough authority’.
In this song we find faith and hope that the present inequality faced by women across the world will be redressed. No longer will women be 4% more likely to live in extreme poverty than men. No longer will women in developing countries have no say over their own healthcare. One in three women will no longer experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. 830 women will no longer die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy or childbirth around the world.
In listening to Mary’s song, we hear the prophetic joy of believing how things can be. Like Hannah in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 1:11 and 2:1-10), Mary believes in that day when the lowly will be lifted up and the hungry will be filled with good things. She sings with women like Ranjita in India and Bibi in Afghanistan, believing and working for that day when no woman is treated as a second-class citizen.
The lowly are lifted up
As a Dalit – from the word ‘dal’ meaning to break or crush – Ranjita has lived under the oppression of the caste system all her life. She was forced to work as a manual scavenger when she was just nine years old. This degrading job required her to remove human excrement with her hands. She has been treated as the lowest of the low, as she explains: ‘They would drop the bread on the plate I carry, they didn’t even hand it to me. They treated us worse than animals.’
Ranjita was determined to find a new life for herself. Christian Aid’s partner ARUN runs a self-help community that enables women like Ranjita to come together and find an alternative and fulfilling means of earning a living. By learning about her rights, Ranjita applied for and got the government compensation grant, which helped her to set up her own tailoring business. Ranjita can now afford to rent a room for her family to live in, rather than living in the slums.
‘Before, people used to shout at us and throw things at us… Now, those same people are coming to us to stitch their clothes,’ says Sumid, Ranjita’s colleague. The lowly truly are being lifted up – praise God!
He has filled the hungry with good things
Bibi has long lived under the shadow of war in Afghanistan. ‘Faced with war and drought, there was nothing to eat,’ she says. ‘We were forced to leave home and we lost everything.’ She is widowed and lives with her two children in a camp.
Despite Bibi’s severe hardship and hunger, she is determined that her children will prosper. Echoing the hope of Mary, she says: ‘I want a bright future for my children, I want them to be educated.’
Our partner, RAADA, aims to enable women like Bibi to work independently and empower themselves, socially and economically. The group has initiated a number of different, lifechanging programmes, such as raising awareness of women’s basic rights, creating women-led businesses, and introducing new training for women seeking to earn a livelihood.
RAADA is helping Afghan women like Bibi to live with dignity, ensuring the hungry are filled with good things.
Solidarity of singing
It’s when Mary and Elizabeth come together that Mary bursts into song – she is finally with someone who will believe her incredible story. It is in the coming together of women in India, Afghanistan, Kenya and Bangladesh, that allows for life-changing, hopeful plans to bear fruit.
Coming together to sing is now a well-known means of improving mental health.5 Singing has also long been used to galvanise solidarity around issues of injustice. We Shall Overcome became an anthem for the 1960s civil rights movement. The Afro-American spirituals emboldened the 19th century abolition movement. And the songs of protest of the anti-apartheid movement – such as Freedom Is Coming – stir our hearts to hope.
At a time of year when our streets are filled with merry music, we are not only invited to listen, but to raise our voices to join in the song of the prophets. ‘In the most difficult situations, when we can see no way forward, prophets are those who help us to reimagine the world, find faith again, and inspire us with the hope to keep on singing.’
Mary’s song offers just such a prophetic vision of how things can be. It sings of the freedom for those bound by the oppression of caste and the inequality imposed by gender. It offers freedom to those of us feeling enslaved by the expectations and demands of Christmas.
Freedom is coming!
Christmas is coming Mary’s song is also one of joy. The joy of anticipating a baby who will bring justice and equality for all. And we get to join in this joy when we give, act and pray to see this justice and equality being realised for women across the world, this Christmas.
We get to share in the joy of women like Ranjita as she watches her youngest child Soniya go to school, the first of Ranjita’s children to be able to do so. And we share in the hope of women like Bibi who is determined to break the cycle of poverty and make sure that her children have the chances that she didn’t have.
In this season when joy can become a cliché, we’re invited to listen to Mary’s song and to enter into a deeper joy. The joy that comes from generous giving and tipping the scales towards justice. Inspired by God’s generous gift to the world this Christmas (John 3:16, James 1:17), and giving with the good cheer of a joyful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7) – may we all be of good cheer this Christmas!
Find out more about our Christmas Appeal.