Reflections for Sunday, December 15
THE SONG OF MARY (Luke 1:46-55)
The Song of Mary—also commonly known as the Magnificat for the first word of its Latin translation—that we sing today in place of a psalm, is one of three hymn-like passages that Luke includes at the beginning of his Gospel. The other two are Zechariah’s words at the birth of his son John the Baptist, and Simeon’s statement at Jesus’ presentation in the Temple. All of these songs are wrought in the style of a number of Old Testament songs, like those sung by the Israelites after the crossing of the sea in Exodus, and—especially pertinent to the song of Mary—Hannah’s prayer after the birth of her son Samuel. In act, it’s not at all far-fetched to imagine that the creator of the song of Mary, whether the Lucan author or Mary herself, based that New Testament song on Hannah’s earlier prayer.
Here are a few phrases from Hannah’s prayer. See what you think.
Hannah prays: My soul exults in the Lord, I rejoice in your victory. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on their strength. He raises up the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap. And perhaps most relevant to our Gospel story, Hannah closes by declaring: The Lord will judge the ends of the earth, he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed (“Messiah”).
Luke 1:46-55, Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:46-47)
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom. (Isaiah 35:1)
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them.(Matthew 11:4-5)
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)
Perfect readings for “Guadete [Rejoice!] Sunday,” the third Sunday of Advent when our reflective, expectant but sober waiting turns briefly to joy. When we taste the delight that accompanies the good news of God’s loving, transformative presence in the world.
And we have been appropriately sober and reflective so far this Advent season, especially as we consider the delicate condition of our natural environment—certainly one of the most critical situations that has ever faced humankind. Further, the tumult and near absurdity of aspects of our public life give us plenty of reason for sober reflection.
But it’s also good to take a break from all that sobriety. To take a moment celebrate the spirit of rejoicing that dwells in our souls almost in spite of our our better judgement. At this season of the year we rejoice in anticipation of Jesus’ imminent arrival in the world. Perhaps we feel our hearts leap as John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb at Mary’s visit.
Our spirits are stirred as we hear the the wonderful stories that are the foundation of our tradition, particularly the awe filled stories that we read now at Advent and soon at Christmas.
Even just hearing the word rejoice, as we did several times this morning can cause our hearts to vibrate in happy resonance. And, for those of us with a literary bent, the wealth of inter-textual references in today’s readings can be a source of delight: seeing how Mary references Hannah and Isaiah, seeing how Matthew’s Jesus references the same passage from Isaiah as well as the appointed psalm we did not hear read today to make room for Mary, and so on.
We rejoice at the transformation that takes place in our individual lives as we commit ourselves ever more fully to walking with Jesus on his way of love. We rejoice at transformation in the lives of those around us and in our communities—almost in spite of the destructive, couldn’t care less ways of the world. We see Mary’s, Isaiah’s and Jesus’ vision come to life—the hungry are fed, the lowly are lifted up, the poor have the good news brought to them.
I could go into details. I could give examples of where I joyfully see God’s good news at work in my own life and in lives around me. But it seems like it would be even more joyful to invite you to share your joys with one another What are you feeling joyful about today, this week, this season? Claim your joys by speaking them out loud if you are willing and, as an extra bonus, add thereby to the joy of all those who hear you.