December 20, Fourth Sunday of Advent:
Draft text of the homily, please do not cite without permission.
My heart exults in the Lord…My strength is exalted in my God…
We’ve heard the Magnificat today (the great song of Mary that the author of Luke has given us) it was the response to the first reading, and it comes again right after this exchange between Mary and Elizabeth.
But what I just quoted isn’t the Magnificat. It’s not even from the gospels. It’s from the Book of Samuel. It’s sung by another pregnant woman…Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet.
Hannah was unable to conceive (we are told) “The Lord had closed her womb.”
In time, however, she does conceive and when she dedicates her only son, to the temple, she sings a song that Luke uses as a model for Mary’s.
In both the mighty are laid low, and the lowly are raised up. God is active and acting in the world…and these women know it, and so they sing…”My heart exults in the Lord…My soul magnifies the Lord…”
Which is a phrase that always causes me to pause. My soul magnifies the Lord…MY soul magnifies the Lord…
In many contemporary versions that line has been altered to read, “my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” which means sort of the same thing…but there’s something missing…something else…something deeper…something more profound…the verb ”magnify” is the reason we call it the Magnificat.
The more traditional (Rite I) version reveals an even a more profound paradox.
It reads, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and then a little later it says, “For he that is mighty hath magnified me.” I magnify the Lord, but the Lord also magnifies me…it’s a double magnification. And it’s maybe a little “through the looking-glass.”
But that’s where we are in Advent…Christmas takes us through the looking glass, where everything looks familiar but everything is utterly and profoundly different because God has become incarnate…enfleshed…one of us. Emmanuel, “God with us.”
At the beginning of the service we prayed “that when Jesus comes he will find in our hearts a mansion prepared for him.” That should sound familiar too…
In John’s great mystical account of the God-magnifying life of Jesus he has Jesus say that he goes to prepare a mansion for us, and now as we are on the cusp of welcoming God—(again)—recognizing God as living and moving and acting among us—(again)…we are told (again) to prepare a mansion for him—“Let every heart, prepare him room.” We are told to prepare God a space, so that God might be born again in us. So that we might be born again. And our souls…our bodies…our very being…will thereby magnify the greatness of God.
We delight in singing about the mighty works of God this time of year. We find it easy and comforting to sing about what God brings about in the world. We sing about God bringing joy and peace. But Mary’s song invites us to consider not only what God brings, but also the how.
The Magnificat can be read as an invitation to sing along with Mary about our part in that divine action. This is what what Jesus’ incarnation tells us. It’s what Mary and Elizabeth are telling us, that God goes about bringing peace, and joy, and love, and hope to the world through us. By magnifying God’s grace and spirit through us.
My soul magnifies the Lord…can mean that through me, and you—through us—others can see God more clearly. Through me, and you, through the way we choose to live our lives—the way we choose to practice our faith in the world—people can catch a sustained glimpse of that peaceful kingdom—can experience the righteous reign of God’s justice and peace—can share in God’s dream of shalom.
Through each of us, through our words, our actions, through all that we do, we magnify God. We magnify God’s being with our own bodies…we magnify God’s action with our own practices…we magnify God’s word with our words in the world.
God is the one who acts, and we magnify that action and give it hands and feet and hearts and minds. We collaborate with God in the divine actions of lifting up of the lowly…feeding the hungry. A good question to meditate on in the remaining time before Christmas might be: how do I magnify the Lord?
That’s a big question. And it’s easy to think that it’s too big for any one of us to handle. But another important lesson the Magnificat teaches is that you are enough. Whoever you are and whatever you’ve have or haven’t done, you are enough. The song of Mary reminds us that all of the scripture points to the little, the lowly, the “who me?” as the vehicle for salvation.
Bethlehem is nothing special. Hannah is a long-suffering, put upon other wife who endures the incessant teasing of the wife who is able to bear children. Elizabeth was also thought to be barren, and endured disgrace because of it.
And Mary is no one. An underage woman from a nowhere town—Nazareth (“what good can come from there?”)—engaged to someone we’re told is from the house of David, but that doesn’t really make Joseph all that special…a lot of people were distantly related to David.
All throughout scripture whenever God wants to do something it’s the little, the ordinary, the unexceptional that God uses. When God wants to create—God reaches into the mud. When God wants to raise up a king for Israel—God chooses the youngest of many children, the one sent out to watch the flocks. When God wants to redeem all of creation—God enters that creation fully and completely as one of the most vulnerable creatures on the planet…a human child.
It is through human beings—through human flesh—the substance that is also the vehicle for all sin in the world—it’s through this fragile and easily broken substance that salvation happens. It is through us that God works. Through us that God is magnified.
St. Paul says that “God is that in which we live and move and have our being,” (Acts 17:28) and Mary reminds us that we are how God lives and moves and brings about God’s will in the world.
It is not through magic, but through a human being, through Mary, and her child Jesus, and with the help of the Holy Spirit through apostles, prophets and martyrs—and even through us—that God transforms the nightmare of the world, into the reality of God’s realm of justice and peace.
And just like Mary and Hannah and Elizabeth, though little, we are enough. Each of us is enough to magnify God.
Meister Eckhart the great 13th century Christian mystic is supposed to have 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.”
Imagine what would happen if we truly made room for God to be born in our hearts. If we made space in our lives for God to work. If we allowed God to magnify the good work that God has begun and is already doing in each of us. And what if we joined together with others to magnify that work. Imagine the world that would be born from that.
When Christ is begotten in us, our souls magnify the Lord…and when our souls magnify the Lord then all around can see the light…
As we prepare to welcome Christ once more into our hearts and our homes, may we make room, may our souls magnify more and more the glory of God…and our hearts exult in the goodness of God, this day and always.