A Canticle for Advent: Unnumbered Blessings

annunciation
The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1898

These daily Advent reflections are each devoted to one Christmas carol (or canticle) to prepare us for God dwelling among us– then, now and forever more.

Mary’s Song from Luke 1

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
tender to me the promise of his word;
in God my Savior shall my heart rejoice.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his Name!
Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;
his mercy sure, from age to age to same;
his holy Name–the Lord, the Mighty One.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by.
Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight,
the hungry fed, the humble lifted high.

Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
to children’s children and for evermore!
~Timothy Dudley Smith 1962

Mary’s life was turned upside down by the news she received and she sings out her acceptance of her part to play in bringing God down to His people.
Her words reflect the upending of the way things had been.  Instead, Jesus is the King who will be unlike any other,
coming from the most humble of women and circumstances, owning nothing, knowing richness by giving Himself away.
He conquers by showing mercy:  our hearts and souls are saved through His death, not by the deaths of enemies.
He keeps God’s promises: He is the covenant with Abraham fulfilled.
Tell out, each of us, from the soul, the good news.
We are given voice by His unnumbered blessings.

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”
Luke 1:46-55

Advent Sings: Leaping with Life

The Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli
The Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Luke 1: 41-45  (Song of Elizabeth)

This scene in Luke is remarkable for its portrayal of the interconnected relationship of four individuals, not just two.  Here are two cousins who become mothers despite utter impossibility — one too elderly and one virginal — and their unborn sons — one who is harbinger and one who is God.

These unborn babies are not just passively “hidden within” here.  They have changed their mothers in profound ways, as all pregnancies do, but especially these pregnancies.  As any mother who first experiences the “quickening” of her unborn child can relate, there is an awesome and frightening awareness of a completely dependent but active “other” living inside.  She is aware she is no longer alone in her shell and what happens to her, happens to this other life as well.

The moment Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she and her baby are overwhelmed, filled with the Spirit from Mary’s unborn.  They leap, figuratively and literally.  Her voice leaps up, louder in her exclamation of welcome; John leaps in the womb in acknowledgement of being in the presence of God Himself.

How can our hearts not leap as well at His Word, at His hope and plan for each of us, at His gift of life from the moment of our conception.

After all, He once was unborn too, completely dependent on His mother, completely alive because of His Father.

 

Advent Sings: How Can I Be Sure?

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

And he [John] will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?

Luke 1: 17-18

If God’s incomprehensibility does not grip us in a word, if it does not draw us into his superluminous darkness, if it does not call us out of the little house of our homely, close-hugged truths..we have misunderstood the words of Christianity. 
~Karl Rahner

Zechariah asks:
How can I be sure?
How can I trust this is true even when it doesn’t make sense in my every day world?
How can I trust God to accomplish this?

These are not the questions to be asked; he was struck mute, speechless until immersed in the reality of impossibility and then he sang loudly with praise.

Instead, we are to ask, like Mary:
How can this be?
How am I worthy?
How am I to be confident within incomprehensibility and calm in the midst of mystery?
How am I to be different as a result?

It is when we are most naked, at our emptiest, that we are clothed and filled with God’s glory.
We do not need to be sure.
We just need to be.
Changed.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten