Friday, December 17, 2021

Katie Snipes Lancaster

The Nativity
Luke 40-56

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for the Lord has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty
One has done great things for me—holy is the name of the Lord.
God’s mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

The Lord has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
the Lord has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
The Lord has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
The Lord has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
The Lord has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as the Lord promised our ancestors.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Reflection on the Nativity
This passage (called the Magnificat because that is the first word of this passage in Latin meaning “my soul magnifies”) could be unpacked and reflected upon for weeks. It is worthy of being printed out and placed in a prominent place. It is a hymn of praise that harkens back to Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2 and rests in the long tradition of singing the story of God.

The Magnificat begins personally: she names the state of her rejoicing soul that “glorifies the Lord” and after hearing Elizabeth call her “blessed,” she now imagines “all generations” will call her blessed. Why? Because God—mighty and merciful—has done great things not just for her but across the generations.

Her hymn then turns from Mary’s own experience to the long history of God’s works. God has already been there for the scattering of the prideful, bringing down rulers, and sending the rich away empty. God has already lifted up the humble and filled the hungry with good things. It is a message that stands within the political and economic history of Israel, noticing the way God has been on the side of the poor and oppressed, those with their “backs against the wall,” as Howard Thurman puts it.

Someone described Mary’s song as the aria to the Gospel’s long opera. It offers us a deeper awareness of the longer story line and gives us that first thread of melody so that we can follow the rich poetic and musical development that is to come. We should expect to see this same God-on-the-side-of-the-poor-and-oppressed in the chapters that come, and we should ponder in our hearts what it might mean that the rich are sent away empty handed, and the rulers are brought down. The themes here will not just disappear into the ether but will remain foundational for the rest of the Gospel of Luke.

How then do we pray? We pray with our hearts open wide for the poor and oppressed. We pray willing to be transformed toward humility. We pray recognizing the ways in which our souls might magnify the Lord. We pray knowing that joy might rise up in our midst unexpectedly.

Praying the Nativity
Open wide our hearts, O God.
And let us magnify your presence.
Let our lives focus your love,
centering the poor and the oppressed,
with you, making a way out of no way.
Humble us, O God.
And bring us into your presence.
Amen