Mary’s Song – Magnificat

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).

step-15-lifelines-ozhivki

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.

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Mary as our Archetype

Virgin Mary: World's Best Mom.

While the opening lines of Elizabeth’s proclamation, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” might be more familiar to those who pray the Rosary or are generally Romish-leaning in their practices of faith, the good low church evangelical that I am has me finding deep meaning in the final words of Elizabeth:

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

For many, myself somewhat reluctantly included, Mary serves as an archetype of faith because, despite all evidence to the contrary, Mary had faith enough in God to say, “yes,” when the Angel Gabriel came to announce what was fixin’ to unfold in her life.

Truth be told, my reaction to the amazing promise from God would have probably been a lot more like Zechariah’s than Mary’s. Though Mary protests for a moment, it doesn’t take much convincing before she feels in her bones that the promise of God will be fulfilled, and that though she will live a life of hardship because of it, her yes will open the very doors of heaven.

What do you supposed the world would look like if every disciple of Jesus had the same sort of faith as Mary?  What would it look like if we decided to trust that God is a good? What would it be like if we decided to trust that God is the giver of every good gift, the Creator of everything that is? How would the world be different if we took seriously that God is love, to trust fully that that love compelled God to send his Son to save rather than condemn the world?

Mary serves as the archetype of faith because she trusted fully, not knowing the end results. She reminds us that the world is changed through the faith of one person, and that the Kingdom will come alongside the faith of all of us. As we approach this final Sunday in Advent, may Mary remind us all of what faith in God looks like, faith that trusts in spite of it all.

Here I am. Here we are.

Mrs. Shepherd's 1916 Hymnal

Mrs. Shepherd’s 1916 Hymnal

On Saturday, December 20th, Saint Paul’s will celebrate the 90th anniversary of its founding in the living room of Mrs. J.H. Shepherd.  On Sunday, December 21st, we will gather to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent and the first day of our 91st year.  As we look back on all that Saint Paul’s has done for the Kingdom since December 20, 1924 and look forward to all that God has in store for us over the next 90 years, the lessons for Advent 4 seem particularly appropriate; especially the words of young Mary as she responds to Gabriel’s word from God.

“Here I am.”

There is a popular saying in Pastoral Care circles that goes, “90% of ministry is just showing up.”  I’ve found that to be true over and over again in my ministry.  Just showing up, just being willing to say “Here I am,” can begin to do wonders for everyone involved.  In the case of Mary, a very young woman, pledged to be married to a honorable carpenter, these words forever changed history as she presented herself, fully, the the Lord.

We can learn a lot from Mary’s example, but as important as it is to show up and say “here I am,” it is even more important for a community of the faithful to join together in saying “Here we are,” and that is exactly what Saint Paul’s has done for 90 years.  “Here we are, devoted and engaged disciples of Jesus who are committed to bringing the Kingdom of God to earth in Foley, Alabama.  Let it be with us according to your word.”  Mary was present to the Lord and through her came salvation to the world.  We have a chance to be present to God as well.  As we live into our baptismal covenant by seeking and serving Christ in everyone we meet and loving our neighbors as ourselves, we share the good news of God’s love for the whole world and continue the work begun through Mary; the redemption of the world.

“Some Anglicans”

Over the last 30-some years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my Church.  I love The Episcopal Church, but sometimes it drives me crazy.  I love our liturgy, but hate it when our liturgy becomes the object of or worship.  I love our flexibility, but hate it when it feels like we believe nothing at all.  I love our tradition, but hate that tradition means the 1950’s American Church , the 1549 Prayer Book, the 11th century Sarum Missal, or any number of other dates to which we affix undue import.  All in all, however, I love The Episcopal Church.  Hell, I wouldn’t invest so much of my time and energy in seeing it flourish in the 21st century if I didn’t.

I was reminded of that love this afternoon as I went about doing research on the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I started out by trying to track down a legend I thought I had heard once that Mary laid hands upon John of Patmos to make him a Bishop.  I never found that particular legend, but I did end up on my favorite source of theological wisdom, Wikipedia.  In the section entitled “Christian Doctrines” there is a list of the various doctrinal statements made by the Church about the Virgin Mary.  Some are rather innocuous: The Mother of God and the Virgin Birth.  While some are widely speculative: the Assumption and Perpetual Virginity.  And then there’s the one that everybody misunderstands, Immaculate Conception, which isn’t about the Virgin Mary conceiving Jesus in her womb, but instead that Mary was conceived without “original sin,” which thanks to the stain of Augustine means here mommy and daddy didn’t have sex.  What I found fascinating was the chart that goes along with all of this, indicating which Christian denominations subscribe to which doctrine.

some anglicans

I like that the tree more hotly contested doctrines: Assumption, Immaculate Conception, and Perpetual Virginity are said to be accepted by “some Anglicans.”  The BVM is perhaps the most bifurcated soul in the Biblical Christian tradition.  It seems as though she is treated either as an object of worship, the Theotokos on par with Jesus Christ himself, or entirely ignored after Christmas Eve.  If you are a Presbyterian or Baptist or Congregationalist, Mary plays no role in your religious life whatsoever.   If you are Roman or Orthodox, she is at the forefront of your religious practice.  But in the Anglican Tradition, that bridge between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism, our Marology runs the full spectrum.

I love my Church because there is room to struggle with Mary and what she means for our lives.  “Some Anglicans,” indeed.