I frequently wake in the morning with a song playing in my mind. Maybe that happens to you sometimes. It doesn’t happen on the alarm clock mornings—like this morning. But on the mornings when I can wake up on my own—gently—slowly—there’s usually a song that comes with me from sleep to greet the day. I never know what the song will be, but it almost always has some relevance to my life at that point, and that’s just as well, because the song usually stays with me throughout the day. Sometimes it’s a song that I haven’t thought of or heard in years. Sometimes it’s a song that I’ve been listening to a lot or learning for choir. Lately it’s been the first line from a plainsong we’ve learned for Advent: Psallite unigenito. Sing psalms to the only-begotten son. Sometimes—sometimes—it’s the antiphon from the Magnificat: The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. This is Mary’s song—the song she sings in response to Elizabeth’s greeting, the song we’ve just heard as part of today’s gospel portion. When I wake with that song in my heart and mind, I know that it’s going to be a good day. Not necessarily an easy day or a fun day. But I know that when I look back at the day before I go to sleep, I’ll be thankful for the gift of the day I’ve experienced.
The Magnificat usually visits me when life is chaotic but I’m feeling fairly centered in who I am and whose I am. I’ve sometimes reflected on the experience of waking with and moving through the day with this song, and I wonder if it was also a waking song for Mary. As you may know, this song wasn’t original to Mary. We first see it in the second chapter of 1 Samuel. Hannah sings this song of praise to God as she gives her firstborn son Samuel to serve in the temple. The song speaks of God turning the world upside down, destroying the wicked and raising those without power to places of honor. Hannah’s son Samuel grows up in the temple and becomes one of the great prophets of Israel, calling the people to repentance, trying to convince them that the ways of the world are not necessarily the ways of God.
I imagine that Mary has heard Hannah’s song all her life, as the stories of Samuel and the first kings of Israel, Saul, David and Solomon, were told. Those stories, which didn’t get much attention in my own childhood Sunday school days—except for the story of David and Goliath—would have been as familiar to Mary as the story of the nativity is to us. The song of Hannah would have been as familiar to her as our favorite carols are to us. So it’s easy for me to imagine that Hannah’s song had a special place in Mary’s heart and that those words would most easily come to Mary’s mouth when her heart was filled with praise for God.
Both Hannah and Mary lived in times of chaos. They lived in times when neighbors warred against each other. They lived in times when people struggled to understand God’s will for their lives and found themselves at odds with one another in that understanding. They lived in times when there was a clear demarcation between people with power and people without power. They lived in times when a few people controlled most of the resources of the land and most of the people struggled for survival. In other words, they lived in times very much like our own.
Mary’s song comes from her tradition and from her heart, but it doesn’t stop with her celebration of the favor she has received from God. She sings for the future as well as the past and the present. She sings of her hope, of the trust she places in God and in God’s justice. She uses the language of the prophets who remind God of the covenant God has made with the people. She sings of the fullness of creation, when all that God has created is as God creates it to be.
Mary’s song was a song for her time. It’s also a song for our time. Hannah and Mary lived in times very much like our own, and each of these women gave birth to sons whose words turned the world upside down. We remember Hannah as the mother of the last judge of Israel. We remember Mary as the mother of God.
And now we wait. Just as Hannah and Mary waited for the births, just as they walked through their days, heavy with the life they carried. Advent is a time of waiting—a time of expectancy—a time of chaos. In this time of waiting for the creation-ripping event of incarnation, almost anything can happen—and usually does. During Advent, all the rules are off. During Advent, chaos seems to reign as we wait for the very Word of God to be born into the world. During Advent, the words of the Magnificat have a special meaning, as the time for birthing God draws near once again.
Meister Eckhart, a theologian of the 14th century, tells us that we are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born. We are all meant to be mothers of God. Every single one of us. Each of us is called to birth God into the world. And now we wait, heavy with expectation. And the world waits, filled with hope, filled with longing.
Four more days. Four more days until Christmas. Four days until we are called to birth God again into the world. I’ve got goosebumps at the thought! Four more days.
Come, Lord Jesus
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