READING Luke 1:46b-55
A reading from Luke
[Mary Said:] My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: you, the Almighty, have done great things for me and holy is your name. You have mercy on those who fear you, from generation to generation. You have shown strength with your arm and scattered the proud in their conceit, casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting | up the lowly. You have filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. You have come to the aid of your servant Israel, to remember the promise of mercy, the promise made to our forebears, to Abraham and his children forever.
GOSPEL READING John 1:6-8; 19-28
The Holy Gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer
Writer M. Scott Peck tells a fable, in one of his books, of an old monastery that was facing imminent closure, as the five remaining monks were elderly and there were no signs of interest from younger generations. Distraught about the coming death of his community, the abbot seeks advice from a neighboring rabbi, who replies, “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”
The confused abbot returns home and shares this curious message with his fellow monks. They spend the next several months ruminating on this idea: Which of us could be the messiah? Is it him? Is it me? They begin to think differently about each other, about the qualities each one exhibits. As they do, they begin to treat each other, and each one himself, with the respect they would give to the Messiah.
In the following months and years, visitors to the monastery’s grounds notice a change in the atmosphere. They begin to seek the counsel of the wise, elderly monks. Young men begin to ask if they can join, “thanks to the rabbi’s gift.”
This 3rd weekend’s Advent readings have a very strong prophetic message, especially if the Magnificat is read which it was. The reading from Isaiah provides substance for the voice crying in the wilderness that John the Baptist identifies with. More than last week’s readings, Isaiah 61 makes explicit what Bishop Tutu would call God’s dream: good news for the oppressed, liberty for the captives and release for the prisoners, comfort for the mourners, rebuilding for the ruined cities.
In Mary’s song we have casting down the mighty and the wealthy who abuse their power, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things. Our stewardship message for us this weekend is shaped by God’s dream of justice. The expectation of Advent is for God’s kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, for God’s dream to come true—and that looks like the hungry being fed, the prisoners being freed, the oppressed being liberated. How do we use our own time and gifts and resources to join in on this vision of liberation and rebuilding?
Like John the Baptizer, we are not ourselves asked to be the light—just to bear witness to the light. Even if we all pull together, all of us Christians, we can’t make God’s dream of justice come true.
- We can, though, be a voice in the wilderness calling for a new way.
- We can with our actions and our gifts bear witness to God’s dream for humanity.
- We can join with others to feed the hungry, to work for peace and rebuilding after disasters, to speak out against the policies that have brought long prison sentences to nonviolent offenders.
Advent doesn’t only look forward to Christmas as the remembrance of Jesus’ birth; it also looks forward to Jesus’ coming again to bring in the kingdom of God, to make God’s dream come true. Stewardship during Advent is using our gifts and spending our money in accordance with this expectation, that Jesus will come again to make the world new. What would we do with all that has been given to us IF we truly lived in this expectation, that the world is about to turn?
In the Gospel of Luke we encounter the Magnificat, Mary’s celebration song about her pregnancy. If you are expecting a lullaby, you better think again.
Mary expresses a raw thankfulness for what the arrival of Jesus means for the liberation of oppressed peoples, and she uses language that reflects triumph over the powerful through protest and resistance. She includes vivid imagery and jaw-dropping wording in each line to indicate the majesty and the transformation that can take place.
It makes sense that this song appears in the lectionary as an alternative to a psalm, because like a psalm it carries the weight of generations long before and after the singer. And along with having significance for the broader community of faith, Mary’s song has a personal tone, as she celebrates that God has given her a significant role in the fulfillment of promises to Abraham’s descendants.
It’s great to see how Mary embraces God’s invitation for her to bring her whole story to the life God is calling her to live. Here are a few things that the Mary’s Song that makes me think about:
Mary’s holistic praise.
Some translations begin the song with Mary claiming that her celebration comes from her “soul” and “spirit.” These terms might suggest to us a neglect for bodily experience, but that is not what they mean here, nor throughout the New Testament. I appreciate the way the Common English Bible translates the opening lines: “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.” The depths of who we are includes our deepest joys and concerns, influential memories, connections to communities, and ideas that shape us even if we don’t know how to explain them. To rejoice from our depths is to bring all of ourselves into the moment.
Mary’s embrace of her story.
Throughout her song, Mary speaks of the way God pays attention to and liberates “the lowly.” She initially focuses on her own situation. When she sings that God has looked with favor upon her lowliness, this could also be translated as “humiliation.”
- Is she talking about her socio-economic status? She lives in Nazareth, a small town that is looked down upon in the region.
- Is she referring to what people will think about her pregnancy when she returns home from Elizabeth’s house? Mary is from an area where homes are so close to each other that it would be near impossible to keep her pregnancy a secret.
In either case, Mary celebrates the freedom to be unashamed of where she is from, who she is a part of, and what her experience is. Actually, she is happy for all generations to know her story.
Mary’s embrace of her community.
The majority of Mary’s song refers to the lowliness of Israel—the people that make up her community of faith—and how God has mightily removed the powerful from their thrones to liberate and lift up this oppressed people of God.
It is important to notice that Mary does not receive the invitation to be the mother of the Christ as an isolated calling or a path for escape. As blessed as she is, she is not trying to exalt herself up above her community. Instead, she recognizes, names, and embraces her community the whole way.
So Mary, in her calling to be the mother of our Lord, received this role with joy amid all the hardships she faced, which is why, in the Magnificat, we hear with joy: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” This exultation of Mary comes from the depths of her being, and thanks to her, the redemptive work of Jesus Christ has been made possible. She gave us an example of how, amid adversity, rejection, poverty, persecution, all the tears and uncertainty she had to face while carrying her child in her womb, she confidently embraced the special plan that God had in store for her. Her attitude was an immense joy that endures forever: “From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”
And we are participants in this happiness. We are blessed to know that God came to meet us as one of us, in the humblest way possible, so that absolutely no one would be excluded. Jesus is the light that illuminates all darkness. John the Baptist was aware of this, which is why he announced, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” And what is that way? That way is our minds and hearts.
Let us open our own inner doors to meet with Jesus, with his presence, with his life, with the practice of his message.
And what happens next? The same thing that happened to Mary, Paul, John and many, many others, and is reported to us in today’s readings: being filled with joy.
If we let our Lord Jesus Christ into our lives, we will feel true and lasting happiness. He himself was immensely happy, and no one has been as intensely happy as he was, and we know very well how he did not have it easy. Neither do we. But still, he was satisfied with what he did on earth and completed his plan of salvation for all, which does not end; but it continues to be in progress, eternally. At first it seemed like a rocky start and to some would claim to have failed miserably, but God’s plans do not go according to our human logic.So let us be filled with joy in this Advent season, and shine a light on the one who is to come again.