For all my ranting and raving about my dislike of the music during Advent, I’ve come to realize that I like a whole lot more of it than I originally thought. Sure, O come, O come Emmanuel (H82, 56) is still by far my favorite, but I’ve added the likes of Comfort, comfort ye my people (H82, 67), On Jordan’s bank (H82, 76), Jack Noble White’s version of the First Song of Isaiah (Renew 122), and Betty Carr Pulkingham’s Magnificat (H82, S247.
You’ll note that of the five I’ve listed, three of them are based on Scripture, and while Psalm 42 and Isaiah 12 are significant texts, there is perhaps no more important scriptural song than that of Mary’s Song, the Magnificat. We have two occasions to hear it sung (read is an option, but not a good one) this Sunday, either as a part of the Gospel lesson, or on its own, in the beautiful language of the Book of Common Prayer’s Canticle 15, the translation being given to us by the very stodgy sounding International Consultation on English Texts (Hatchett’s Commentary, 115), which also gave us the modern translations of our Creeds and the ecumenical Lord’s Prayer, which, as I once heard it said, is ecumenical only in that we’ve all agreed to never use it.
Mary’s Song holds a special place in my heart because of a gift given to my family by our dear friend Bill Murray. Bill wrote this beautiful icon of Mary and Elizabeth in thanksgiving for the birth of FBC. (You can read reflections on the process of writing the icon at the link above).
Mary’s Song is something of an expletive, sung in response to the pure joy she felt in the presence of her kinswoman, Elizabeth. She had heard Elizabeth’s blessing, heard the story of the not-yet-born John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, and felt the loving embrace of the only other person who could understand what she was going through: carrying an unexpected child following a word from God, and Mary, overcome with emotion, shouted, sang, announced, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”
She just couldn’t help it. A song of joy and prophecy and probably not a little bit of fear just came forth from her soul. In the same way my children dance when a song they like comes on, no matter where they are, Mary’s Song reminds us that following God’s will for our lives will lead to moments of unexpected joy, sometimes even in the midst of fear and hardship.
I don’t notice those moments of joy often enough, but as the countdown to Christmas dwindles, my prayer is that I’ll take the time to, like Mary, feel the joy that comes from knowing God’s love.