Advent is a season of anticipation. It begins by inviting us, in the midst of decorating, shopping, and busyness, to make room for the second coming of Christ in power and glory to judge the world. It seems a bit odd to start the season leading up to Christmas in that way, but it is the reality in which we live: somewhere between the Incarnation and the Eschaton. As the weeks progress, the tone begins to change. Our preparation isn’t as much for the Second Advent of Christ, but for the First. John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” and then, finally, we come to Advent 4, and thing for which I wait each year. Sure, Christmas is the telos of Advent, but for me, the Magnificat, especially sung by the congregation to Betty Carr Pulkingham’s setting, is the highlight of the Advent Season. With the help of the choir, the round/canon nature of the antiphon echoes to the heavens:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
On Monday, I noted that Elizabeth’s proclamation of Mary’s blessedness had built into it an awareness that the foundation of blessing is found in God speaking a word of favor upon the one who is being blessed. As I spent some time looking into the Magnificat, I became aware that just as our blessedness is from God, so too is our blessing of God a gift from the same.
Mary cries out in exaltation that it is her soul that proclaims the greatness of the Lord. That word, translated as soul, is psyche. We’ve adopted it in English, to mean soul, mind, or spirit, but its original meaning takes us all the way back to Genesis 1-3. The primary definition of psyche is breath. It is the Greek equivalent of Hebrew’s ruah, the very breath of life given to each human in creation. So it is that when Mary sings out the greatness of the Lord, it comes from that place deep within, her soul, her spirit, the core of her being. It pours out from the breath that was given to her by God.
As disciples of Jesus, in the pattern of Mary, we share in that breath, and as we approach the annual remembrance of the coming of the Word made flesh, that same soul, breath, spirit, will rejoice in God our savior.
Many years later, as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey to cries from the souls of the crowd of “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” the Pharisees will rebuke Jesus and ask him to tell the crowd to stop proclaiming the greatness of the Lord. In response, Jesus tells them that even if they were to be silenced, the stones would cry out instead. It seems that there is no stopping creation, made by the breath and Word spoken, from proclaiming the greatness of the Lord.