Advent 4 brings us ever closer to Christmas, but first we rejoice along with two pregnant women, one quite old and the other very young. Last week (thanks to Zephaniah) we witnessed God singing. This week, it’s Mary’s turn. And oh, what a song!
Through the centuries many Christians have read Luke’s Gospel account as confirmation that God sent Jesus solely as a spiritual counter to sin and death. There’s some truth in that, but there’s an undeniable political/social aspect to this story, as well. The Jews of first-century Judea were heavily oppressed by the Roman empire, with the active cooperation of the Jewish Temple hierarchy. It is in that context that we hear Mary’s great song, known as the Magnificat:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. –Luke 1:46-55
The only way the Romans could be overthrown, the Jews believed, was by divine intervention. Just as God had saved God’s people through the centuries, so now would it happen again. With this meeting between Elizabeth and Mary, two seemingly insignifiant figures, everything was about to change. That’s the thing about change: we often don’t recognize those significant moments when everything turns and a new world opens.
I’ll draw on my “inner Luke” here and encourage you to take about three minutes to listen to a song: Rory Cooney’s “Canticle of the Turning,” which is based on “The Magnificat.” (I rejoice that it is published in my denomination’s most recently published hymnal, Community of Christ Sings, No. 404.) I also rejoice that Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is JUSTICE.
Here’s a link to a previous ForeWords blog posting on this week’s lectionary scriptures:
Note: My denominational worship office has switched around the last two Sundays in Advent for Peace and Joy. But it’s all good.
My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions.</em