Advent 4, C
The story of two women. Mary and Elizabeth. Mary we know well enough. She’s never far from the Christmas story. Elizabeth is less familiar. Like so many biblical women, she has long been barren. As we join her story today, by the grace of God and against all odds, she is at long last pregnant; carrying the future John the Baptist within her womb. Her husband, a priest, has been struck dumb by the angel Gabriel for his disbelief of his really quite unbelievable situation. Elizabeth is the relative young Mary has traveled long, hard and apparently quite urgently to see. In her poem “Visitation”, Anne Giedinghagen writes in the voice of Elizabeth.
I was months into the heaviness
swaybacked and swollen, and my husband
Mute as an old stone—
So that I heard it all the louder when Miriam’s shout
Reached me from the dust-choked road outside.
I raced out to see her standing there,
Glowing with sweat, her body just beginning
To take on a mother’s curves beneath her robes.
And then the child that nestled sweet
Beneath my heart
Leapt—not a simple turning, not a kick,
But jumped as if some new and secret joy
Had set him dancing: and it was then I knew—
Knew who it was she bore within herself.
Later some would call it solemn, grand; but truthfully,
We laughed as we embraced: breast to breast,
Cheek to smiling cheek,
And I know that both our sons
were laughing too,
in that way of old friends meeting
when all time seems as nothing,
and the space
between lives collapses
“The space between lives collapses into grace”. It’s hard to believe, as we look around at the hustle and bustle of it all, but there is still time for the space, still time for the grace. It is not Christmas. Not yet. We are still in the solemn, introspective, preparatory season of Advent. But as we draw ever closer – ever closer to the the time of Emmanuel, of God with us, the joy rises and the song bursts forth.
In a prophesy inspired and punctuated by the dancing awareness of her unborn son for the presence of the divine, Elizabeth recognizes, greets and blesses her young relative.
A shy smile or murmured thanks proving simply inadequate, Mary renders one of the best known, most well loved songs in all of the bible. Putting a full stop to all action, Mary’s song of joy, praise and recognition of a just, loving and palpably present God bursts from her in the passage we now know as the Magnificat, or Mary’s song.
Although Mary and Elizabeth (and arguably the unborn kinsmen John the Baptist and Jesus) were the only people present when Mary’s hymn burst forth unbidden, her words have made their way into our minds and our worship, present in both morning and evening prayer.
Has her song made it into our hearts? Has her song become our song?
Didn’t know you had a song? Jack Kornfield, in “A Path With a Heart” shares the story of a tribe in Eastern Africa. In this tribe, they do not determine a child’s birthdate by the day it enters the world, or even from conception. A child’s life is reckoned from the day the child becomes a thought in the mother’s mind. As soon as she determines to conceive a child, the mother goes off alone to sit under a tree and to listen. She sits and she listens until she hears the child’s song. When she and the child’s father join together to have the child, she teaches the father the song, and they sing it together. She sings the song to the child throughout the pregnancy, and teaches it to the midwives so that they can sing it as she labors and as the child is born. After the baby’s birth, the song is taught to all the village. As the child reaches milestones, or when it falls and needs comfort, or with any needs, the village sings the song. When the grown child marries, the song of the newly joined husband and wife are sung together, joining the songs and the couple together. At the end of the person’s life, the song will be sung at the death bed, for the last time.
What is your song?
I cannot speak for your mother. I feel quite secure in my assertion that mine never, ever sat alone under a tree listening for my song. We are Episcopalian. That is not our way. Still we have songs. They are the lullabies, cheers, and laments sung by our parents, our communities, our friends; the marriage songs sung by our partners; the hymns sung by our church. In addition, in the bustle of our world, we are bombarded by additional songs; the commercial ditties of consumerism, status and wealth, the fight songs of fear and self protection; the pop culture songs of apathy, of entertainment, of self. All these songs mold and change our lives.
God offers us another song. He shares it through Mary. He has given us Mary’s song. “Ah, but I am not Mary,” you say. “The mother of God, Blessed Virgin, Queen of Heaven. I am just, well, ordinary.” Remember the real Mary. Not a queen, not exalted. A teenage peasant girl, uneducated, pregnant out of wedlock. As ordinary as ordinary can be. Traveling on foot through rough country to connect with her kinswoman in a difficult time. Yet, from within her lowliness, her humility, her everyday life she listens. She recognizes the God of love and justice, and embraces the song of her heart that flows forth to God. That is how God comes to us. Through the lowly, the ordinary, the everyday. That is the point. You are Mary. I am Mary.
As christian mystic Meister Eckhart said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.” “The Spirit of God still wants to dance on the water of our lives, the wombs of our hearts, to give birth again to the Christ in us.” (Rev. Fred Demaray, private communication, Midrash, 2012)
Let us open the ears of our hearts. The child in our ordinary, human souls will dance as it recognizes the divine in the here and the now, as the Prince of Peace is carried in our hearts, our souls, our lives.
If you would be, you are Mary. If you would listen, her song is your song. To live that song is to mold and change the world.
May our souls ever magnify the Lord, our spirits rejoice in God our Savior. Amen