My Soul Magnifies the Lord: Advent Meditation, 12/22/2012
By: Jason Sierra
When I was little, my brother and I had a cassette tape with a dramatic telling of Jesus’ birth story on it. I would listen to it night after night for months on end as I fell asleep, the rhythms of the story making their way into my dreams. Actors took each of the parts. The narration was replaced with unspecified details and conversations, city and nature sounds, music.
One of my favorite parts came early on: We hear Mary’s footsteps on gravel, coming closer and closer. The even pacing of her approach is only broken by a warm greeting to her cousin, Elizabeth. Before she can reply, however, Elizabeth is cut off by her own surprised gasp. John leaps within her womb at the approach of Jesus, growing within Mary. And immediately Elizabeth knows.
As a child, I was always amazed that Elizabeth knew, even before Mary told her. She knew Mary was pregnant, she knew Mary had been called to something special, and she knew her own child rejoiced at this child of Mary’s.
And having been recognized by her cousin, Mary breaks into song, like a musical. Only Mary doesn’t sing her own song. She sings from the depths of her tradition, pulling from the First Book of Samuel and her ancestor Hannah. She rejoices as she weaves herself into the story of her people, claiming her place in their history, naming her role in their prophecies.
For me, Advent has always been more about church beyond the parish grounds than the four Sundays or even the Christmas Eve celebrations. It is the one time of year we still bring ritual into our homes. We light the Advent candles, count down the days with a special calendar, display our nativities, and sing our hymns. It’s a time when we can experience what it is to let our faith story penetrate our entire lives. It is a time when, like Mary and Elizabeth, we are called to recognize our own part in the story of God’s salvation and name it in those around us. It is a time when we can explore a little deeper what it really means to hitch our own story to the story of Jesus.
Even as the tape grew thin from overuse, there was a powerful warmth there between the two women. As they sat in Elizabeth’s courtyard, talking, you could hear in Elizabeth’s voice an openness to the glory of God shining through her young cousin, a child she had known from birth. And Mary too was glowing with compassion for herself as she acknowledged that same light within herself and chose to rejoice in it. May we take time in these last days of Advent to see God in those closest to us, to name the story we know so well and to see ourselves as active participants in its unfolding.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.