Sunday, December 12, 2004

A Laywoman's Lectionary: Reversals - For the Third Sunday in Advent (12/12/04)

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise . (Luke 1:47-55) [NRSV].
Henry Ossawa Tanner's Annunciation 1898
The Bible is often an inhospitable place for women and yet here, after the dark insistence of the first two Sundays of Advent, is this exquisite anthem celebrating the gracious acceptance and wonder experienced by a young woman whom we would not criticize for a second had her song been instead one of fear and resistance.
The Gospel writers were, as far as we know, all men. Yet Luke finds room, again and again, to celebrate the spirit and contributions of women.
The Bible is full of people who resist God's call. Some of them murmur, "But I can't," and must be persuaded that they can. Some of them launch extended arguments with God. At least one of them has to be consumed by a whale before he gets it. And yet Mary, the least likely in a series of unlikely choices, embraces God's claim on her life without hesistation.
Mary refers to her "lowliness" and surely she, of all people, would know. Naive, unmarried, impoverished, and in something of a predicament. And yet, full of confidence that God has favored her with God's presence, bodily and spiritually.
Mary is not, so far as we know, an educated woman. Not a politician. Not a speechmaker. Not a sociologist or economist. And yet she grasps and proclaims, from the moment it is announced to her, the import of her pregnancy: the low, as always in the economy of the New Testament, will be lifted and the mighty will be, just as inevitably, laid low.
Pay attention! That is the recurring theme of Advent. Pay attention to the prospect of mystery in an isolated cave. Pay attention to the uneasy juxtaposition of material excess and spiritual poverty. Pay attention when angels show up unexpectedly.

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