How does a young girl — some commentaries suggest maybe 14 years old — come out with such a deep, theological response to the angel’s announcement that she will birth the Messiah all of Israel has waited for?
Mary’s burst of praise contains over a dozen references to Old Testament (I prefer “First Testament”) scriptures, which she no doubt learned as part of the religious education all Jewish children received, right?
But the next question would be, Where did Luke get the text of her song? In a church where I was the Sunday morning guest speaker, we considered four possibilities; you might hear all of these from different types of people at this time of year:
- Luke didn’t get it from her. It’s revisionism. The words are being ascribed to her because the poetry works into a nice narrative; four poems or psalms actually; being attributed to four different people. Makes a nice Christmas play, but it never happened; at least not like that.
- She didn’t use those words at the time, but later when Luke interviewed her. She recalled being filled with awe and wonder at the moment, and gives him a text years down the road that only comes with maturity and further understanding of the prophetic texts. A reflective version of actual events that happened differently.
- Luke did get it from her and it really was the text of her song at the time. She essentially “taught herself” the text and melody in those critical, expectant months — yes, there was a tune to this song — and having memorized it, repeated it over and over throughout her life.
- The song is real, the lyrics are accurate, and it’s all Mary’s work, but Luke didn’t need to interview her to get it, because many of the women of the time had been taught “Mary’s Song;” originally from Mary herself, but some from others who knew the lyrics and melody. (However, its original CCLI number was discontinued; I think it was song number 4.)
I like options three and four. Modern scholarship would try to deconstruct the text, but instead, we should look at ways we can make the text work. Luke, the doctor and historian, having access to the text of a young peasant girl’s immediate reaction to an angelic visitation is far from impossible to imagine. And his gospel begins with a pledge of accuracy.
The problem with options one and two is that there are many people simply looking for a loophole. They are predisposed to believe that the Bible is more fiction than fact, and if you can’t trust some of it, you can’t trust any of it. If you can’t trust it, you don’t have to believe it, or follow its teachings, or recognize its version of God.
For those people, I hope this Christmas they receive the gift of faith.