All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us".
Fourth Week of Advent
Over the last several Advents, Betsey Beckman and I have collaborated in presenting the Advent retreat ONCE UPON A TIME IN A TOWN CALLED NAZARETH. While I cannot possibly re-create that experience for you here in newsletter format, here is a sampling sent to you as a labor of love. May it bless your preparation for the coming of Christ.
And Mary said, "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
"For He has looked upon His handmaid's lowliness:
Behold, from this time on all generations will call me blessed.
"For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
"And His mercy is from age to age
To those who fear Him.
"He has shown might with His arm;
He has scattered the arrogant of mind and heart.
"He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones,
But lifted up the lowly.
"The hungry He has filled with good things;
The rich He has sent away empty.
"He has helped Israel, His servant,
remembering His mercy,
According to His promise to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.”
Known as the Magnificat from the first word in Latin, to magnify or praise, this is a form of Hebrew poetry or song known as a canticle. Sung in response to the greeting of Elizabeth, these stanzas of praise attest to God's faithfulness and mercy. In the middle, Mary’s theme quickly becomes universal. She not only looks back on God’s faithfulness, she looks forward to the anticipated deliverance.
All the verbs here are in a form of the future tense that is unique to the Greek. In this tense, the action is seen as being an ongoing result of the action. While it refers to the future, that future is brought about in the present moment. The reversals, God’s saving actions, that Mary heralds, are not out there in some distant future. They start NOW with this child that she carries, this child that Elizabeth honors as Lord. This new order is available to all who suffer, to all those with whom God has chosen to identify with in becoming one of us. We have a God of history who acts in the here and now.
Mary here acts as a prophet and represents all those who look to God for help. The emphasis, however, is not on her lowliness or insignificance as compared to God. Rather it is on God’s mindfulness of her and all those like her. Mary’s words have given hope to countless millions ever since she first sang this song.
Betsey dancing the Magnificat in the version song by David Haas.
When Mary voices the Magnificat she does so a true daughter of Judaism following in the footsteps of other Jewish women: Miriam at the Sea of Reeds, Deborah and, of course, Hannah, whose canticle has close parallels to Mary’s. These words from Mary are a testimony to her familiarity with her own Jewish faith. She knew the story of her people, her psalms, and scriptures.
So, let us return to Miriam of Nazareth on the first night of A.D. At the close of this life-changing, history-changing, universe-changing day, Mary would have gathered it all up and gone to prayer as she knew how to pray, as a Jewish woman at the close of the Sabbath.
In ONCE UPON A TIME IN A TOWN CALLED NAZARETH, we join with the Jewish people in praying the end of Sabbath prayer, Havdalah. As the shadows deepen and the stars appear in the heavens, we bid goodbye to Shabbat. With the glow of a braided candle, the sweet fragrance of spices, and a taste of wine, we mark the end of this special day in our week, an island of tranquility in an ocean of work and stress. Havdalah means separation. May we separate ourselves from hatred, indifference, violence, and promote peace, caring, fairness, and love. And may we now, this Fourth Week of Advent, turn our faces and our hearts to the near, upcoming Feast of Christ's coming at Christmas.
TO PRAY AND PONDER: Recall a time in your life when, like Mary, you have been both humbled and exalted by God's saving action in your life. Be still and take some time to just remember and rejoice. See if you can find words, music, dance or art to give expression to what you are feeling.
TO DO: Reread the first chapter of Luke lingering on vs. 39-45, a testimony to friendship among women. Consider those women who have played a role like Elizabeth in your life--women you could go to, women who understood and uplifted you. Take the time to pray for them or send them a note.
NEXT WEEK: Enjoy the whole of Christmas--all twelve days of it!
Interested in hosting a future Advent Retreat or other event, please contact Kathleen. You'll find a recent clip of Kathleen speaking at United Lutheran, Bella vista, AR on the About Kathleen page.