Third Sunday of Advent: We blow out the candle of bitterness and light the candle of joy.
Lectionary texts: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Luke 1:46-55
Mary’s song in Luke 1 is known as The Magnificat. This title grows out of a Latin tradition where titles assigned to segments of Scripture are based on the first word or line of the text. Magnificat is the Latin word for “magnify.” The lyrics of Mary’s song are a medley of phrases from Scriptures that she very likely recited throughout her life. Many of the lines are reminiscent of the psalm Hannah sings to celebrate the birth of her son, Samuel (I Samuel 2).
These jubilant words that Mary sings in the early days of her pregnancy are also declarations of defiance. Maybe it’s a hormonal outburst! Or just maybe, the Spirit of God is already speaking through the child in her womb. Mary knows well the bitterness of the long oppression and tyranny her people are suffering under Herod’s rule. The child she will bring into the world is quite literally a seed of hope. No, it’s much more than a seed! It’s a guarantee! It’s a promise directly from the mouth of God. This Son of God will spark a new era of freedom and prosperity. Mary’s flesh and bones comes into the world with heavenly power that will crush the oppressor. The poor will no longer go hungry. The marginalized will no longer be silenced. The refugees will no longer be denied citizenship. Mary’s psalm is a song of revolution, speaking truth to power. In place of bitterness there is good news that brings great joy.
We know the rest of the story. Jesus may have toppled the world on its head in the spiritual realm, but the earthly authorities of his time seemed to have won the day. We celebrate the resurrection and live in hope of the new heaven and new earth that Jesus set in motion before he ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. And yet…
At this writing (October 2017) I can relate better than ever to Mary’s frustration with the political climate of her day. Without berating anyone in particular, I can admit to the bitterness I feel when those in power make policies that go against my own convictions. Much of the bitterness grows out of feeling ill-equipped to fight back. In a small measure, my own sense of powerlessness to change a broken work helps me better relate to Mary’s joy in God’s promised realm. The child she carries is coming to bring a new world order.
How might the good news that ignites Mary’s joy renew our joy today? Perhaps we could approach Advent with a spiritual practice similar to Lent, a season of “giving up” in order to make room for a fresh awareness of God’s presence. Instead of giving up chocolate, or Starbuck’s, or our favorite something or other. . . what if we gave up the stresses that rob us of our sense of God’s presence? Advent could be a season in which we trade our despair, for hope. In these days that prepare us to receive the Christ of Christmas, we could back away from confrontation and set our hearts on the path of peace. We could loosen our obsession on the people and circumstances that fuel our bitterness and pray for the Spirit’s help in holding on to what gives us joy. The spiritual practice of Advent clears a path in our frantic world for the perfect love of Christ, so we can be freed from our fears – fear of failure, fear of unemployment, fear of war, fear of sickness, fear of death, fear of loneliness, fear of never resolving our fears. Let it go! In full confidence of God’s faithfulness, let us joyfully sing “my soul magnifies the Lord.”
Lord Jesus, we pray that you would come into our lives and make new pathways for us to receive your hope, peace, joy, and love. Help us stand up to the people and circumstances that rob us of a sense of worth. Resting in your promises, give us courage to believe that you are making all things new.
Rev. Dr. Tammy Wiens is the Mission Associate for Christian Formation for the denominational offices of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Among her many and varied tasks, Tammy serves as Mission Coordinator for UKirk college ministries. She also serves on the APCE Annual Events Ministry Team. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org