Advent 4, December 23, 2018
Year C, Advent 4: Micah 5:2-5a; Canticle 15; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke [1:39-45, (46-55)]
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My soul magnifies the Lord. Or in another version, “my soul doth magnify the Lord.”
Today we hear the Magnificat, that great song of Mary that the author of Luke and Acts has blessed us with. We heard it in Canticle 15 and we heard it repeated in the Gospel. Beautiful words. Glorious words for the last week of Advent as we await the coming of the Christ child.
But what if you hear “My heart exults in the Lord … My strength is exalted in my God …”
It sounds very much like the Magnificat, but it’s not. It’s not even from the gospels. It’s from the Book of Samuel. It’s sung by another pregnant woman, Hannah the mother of Samuel, the great priest and prophet.
Hannah was unable to conceive and bear children because we are told, “The Lord had closed her womb.” In time, however, she does conceive and when she dedicates her son – her only son – to the temple, to become a priest she sings a song. Luke uses this song as a model for Mary’s song.
In both the mighty are laid low, and the lowly are raised up. God is active and acting in the world. And so these women sing, “My heart exults in the Lord!” “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
I must admit – this has been the most wonderful week of Advent. It’s all about the women. Mary. Elizabeth. Even Hannah. The women are there at the beginning and they are there at the end when Jesus is cruficied. Womb to tomb.
There’s something more profound in saying “my soul magnifies the Lord.” The more traditional (Rite I) version of the Magnificat has yet another translation that opens up an even deeper level, a more profound paradox.
It reads, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and then a little later it says, “For he that is mighty hath magnified me.” I magnify the Lord, but the Lord also magnifies me. It’s a double magnification and it’s maybe a little “through the looking-glass.”
But that’s where we are in Advent. Advent prepares us for Christmas, which takes us through the looking glass. There, everything looks familiar but everything is utterly and profoundly different. Because God has become incarnate, become flesh, one of us, and that changes everything.
At the beginning of the service we prayed “that when Jesus comes he will find in our hearts a mansion prepared for him.” That should sound familiar too. In John’s great mystical account of the life of Jesus, Jesus says that he goes to prepare a mansion for us (“in my father’s house are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2) And now as we are on the cusp of welcoming God (again) – recognizing God as living and moving and acting among us (again) – we are told to prepare a mansion for God. You know the song: “Let every heart, prepare Him room.” We are told to prepare God a space, so that God might be born again in us. So that we might be born again. Our souls, our bodies, our very being will thereby magnify the greatness of God.
One of the things that delights me about the Book of Common Prayer and our hymnal is you can find everything you need. Open the hymnal and you will find what you need in the way of Christmas carols. I’m not talking about the ones you hear on the radio, I’m talking about the ones we love to sing in church. (Riffed on Silent Night, made for string instrument.)
You know those who might not want to sing the rest of the year, always sing at Christmas. We delight in singing about the mighty works of God this time of year. We find it easy and comforting to sing about what God brings about in the world. We sing about God bringing joy and peace. Mary’s song invites us to consider not only the what, but also the how.
The Magnificat can be read as an invitation to sing along with Mary about our part in that divine action. This is what Jesus’ incarnation tells us. It’s what Mary is telling us. That God goes about bringing peace, and joy, and love, and hope to the world through us. By magnifying God’s grace and spirit through us.
Through the way we choose to live our lives and practice our faith in the world people can catch a sustained glimpse of that peaceful kingdom. They can experience the righteous reign of God’s justice and peace.
Through each of us, through our words and our actions, through all that we do, we magnify God. We magnify God’s being with our own bodies. We magnify God’s action with our own practices. We magnify God’s word with our words in the world; our giving in the world. (Diner in Middletown; guy gave up first class ticket for mother and child; Dunkin Donuts. Christmas gifts)
God is the one who acts. We magnify that action and give it hands and feet and hearts and minds. We collaborate with God in the divine actions of lifting up of the lowly, feeding the hungry.
A good question to meditate on in the remaining time before Christmas might be: how do I magnify the Lord?
Bethlehem is nothing special. Hannah is a long-suffering, put upon other wife who endures the incessant teasing of the wife who is able to bear children. Elizabeth was also thought to be barren, and endured disgrace because of it.
And Mary is no one. An underage woman from a nowhere town – Nazareth (“what good can come from there?”) – engaged to someone we’re told is from the house of David but that doesn’t really make Joseph all that special; a lot of people were distantly related to David.
All throughout scripture whenever God wants to do something it’s the little, the ordinary, the unexceptional that God uses. When God wants to create God reaches into the mud. When God wants to raise up a king for Israel, God chooses the youngest of many children, the one sent out to watch the flocks. When God wants to redeem all of creation God enters that creation fully and completely as one of the most vulnerable creatures on the planet, a human child.
It is through human beings, through human flesh, the substance that is also the vehicle for all sin in the world. It’s through this fragile and easily broken substance that salvation happens. It is through us that God works. Through us that God is magnified.
In Acts, St. Paul says that “God is that in which we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Mary reminds us that we are how God lives and moves and brings about God’s will in the world.
It is not through magic, but through a human being. Through Mary, and her child Jesus, and with the help of the Holy Spirit through apostles, prophets and martyrs – and even through us – that God transforms God’s dream of shalom into the reality of God’s realm of justice and peace.
And just like Mary and Hannah, though little, we are enough. Each of us is enough to magnify God. Imagine what would happen if we let God work. If we truly made room for God to be born in our hearts. If we let God magnify the good work that God has begun and is already doing in each of us. What if we joined together with others to magnify that work? Imagine the world that would be born from that.
As we prepare to welcome Christ once more into our hearts and our homes, may our souls magnify more and more the glory of God and our hearts exult in the goodness of God, this day and always. Amen.
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