And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor 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 forever.”
Advent seems so sentimental sometimes. Perhaps that is because Advent is often swallowed up the larger consumer culture winter holiday frenzy. This is the third week of a season that is four weeks and, by now, your calendars are that much more full of holiday obligations and errands. That call from the scriptures that this be a season of waiting, remembering and hoping may seem laughable.
Advent is about the waiting — not just the waiting of the Christ-Child who comes into the world in the form of the most dependent version of our humanity, but waiting for the reconciliation of the world. A world made right. A world fit for a Christ to come back and draw us to Him.
Sometimes the problem with sentiment and nostalgia around this time of the year is that it is always about the memory. The memories of little pieces of chocolate each day and bathrobed shepherds can be wonderful. What is so beautiful about Mary’s song is that it seems to remember while hoping for something to come. When Mary speaks of all these future generations calling her blessed, it is not of anything Mary has done of her own volition but because the God of her ancestors has been as faithful to her as God was to them. Mary is a vessel through which God is birthed in the world anew through the person of Jesus Christ.
There is something about getting ready for a change in life that tends to fill us with both excitement and anxiety. We get through those times of uncertainty: fear and excitement because of the memory of previous times when we got through change. In what ways this Advent season, can the memory of God’s faithfulness buoy our expectancy about the future?
The Magnificat, or the song of Mary, is looking backwards and looking forwards. God has been faithful and God will be faithful. However, God’s faithfulness in the future will not necessarily look like God’s faithfulness in the past. A different vision of God’s faithfulness is never as clear in scripture as in the advent of Jesus Christ. God’s faithfulness now becomes a crying, walking, talking, sometimes introverted, sometimes extroverted, son of a carpenter who proclaims that salvation is found not in seats of power and wealth
but in radical acts of love and forgiveness. God gives Mary the task of carrying all that into the world. And this week, we hear her song. A song of blessing, but that song did not come without fear and anxiety. She had to be supported by her cousin, Sarah. She had to be reminded of God’s faithfulness in the past so she could hope for God’s faithfulness in the future.
This week, Breathe! Slow Down! Gather around those you love and remember God’s faithfulness in the past. Where did God show up for you, for your ancestors? Where have you seen God’s mighty deeds in your life? Thank God for those times and if those times seem hard to remember, ask God to show up, to remind you of God’s faithfulness.
This week we focus on the song of Mary, also known as the Magnificat. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn. Composers throughout the centuries have been inspired to set this text to music. At Westminster, you have the opportunity to worship through many musical settings both at our Sunday morning services, and at services of choral evensong. During this season of Advent, I have chosen a musical setting for our choristers and adult choir that is a reflection on the angels’ annunciation to the blessed virgin, “Angelus ad virginem.”
This popular 13th century carol is a poetic version of the annunciation story. It is said to have originally consisted of 27 stanzas, with each following stanza beginning with the consecutive letter of the alphabet. The setting employed by the musicians at Westminster use only four of those. This setting, composed by 20th century British composer Andrew Carter, uses a rollicking organ accompaniment to highlight the joy of the text. Carter chose to alter between groupings of three and groupings of two. In so doing he musically highlights the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – and the duality of Christ – truly God and truly Human. May the joy of the blessed Virgin Mary and this lively carol inspire us this Advent season!
Third Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Joy
How do you feel when you hear the word joy? Joy is a beautiful word. We want to feel joy, spread joy to others and live a joyous life.
In this third week of Advent, focus on sharing joy with those around you who may need to have more joy in their lives. Send a card to someone who may be sad, take treats to a hospital, fire house or police station, donate toys and clothes to a family shelter, and thank someone who has helped you. By giving joy, we receive joy.
The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word joy. This is their response:
Dear Lord, thank you for giving us joy. Help us to give joy to others, especially to those who need it more than me.
Meet Paula Cooper, the Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-worker based in Zambia. As regional liaison for East Central Africa, Paula facilitates PC(USA) relationships with partner churches and institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia, where the church is growing rapidly, and pastoral training and leadership development are of major concern. Paula also provides support for PC(USA) mission personnel and Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in the region.
Paula brought her faith-filled exuberance and warmth in a visit to Westminster this past
March as part of the Kenya Mission Network conference that Westminster hosted. Paula is the recipient of ongoing budget support through our International Missions Committee. The committee would love for you, as part of your Advent devotions, to reach out to Paula and wish her a joyful Christmas season. As such, we encourage you to email your thanks and prayers for work and ministry, identifying yourself as a member or friend of Westminster. This way, she may know that our financial support is matched by human care.
Paula may be reached by email at email@example.com, and you may copy firstname.lastname@example.org, so that we may echo your well wishes.
Cover Art: The Annunciation, 1380s. Netherlands, or possibly France, 14th century. Tempera and oil with gold on wood. The Cleveland Museum of Art.