December 23, 2018

Advent 4 Year C 2018

Jack Kornfield tells the story one African tribe whose custom is that when a woman decides to have a child, she goes and sits alone under a tree, and she listens. She listens until she hears the song of the child who wants to come.

Once she hears the song, she returns to the man who will be the child’s father and teaches the song to him. When they conceive the child, they sing the song to call the child to them.

When the woman is pregnant, she teaches the child’s song to the midwives and old women of the village so that when the birth time arrives, the people surrounding the mother sing the song to welcome the child among them.

Then as the child grows up, the other villagers learn the song. If the child falls or hurts his knee someone picks him up and sings the song. When the child does something wonderful, the people of the village sing this song.

It goes this way through life. At a wedding, the songs of husband and wife are sung together.

Finally, when this child grows old, and lies in bed ready to die, all the villagers know the song, and they sing it for the last time.

Today we have heard the song of another woman, Mary, who is pregnant and has travelled to be with her relative Elizabeth who is also pregnant with a boy whom we know as John the Baptist. That baby leaps in Elizabeth’s womb at Mary’s greeting and Elizabeth moved by the Holy Spirit proclaims a blessing, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

Mary responds with one of the most beautiful songs in our Christian tradition, the Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” A song about the child she carries, and the God who has blessed her with who he is and who he will become. Mary’s song knits together the sacred experience of her Jewish heritage like pieces of a quilt beautifully transformed from seemingly disconnected scraps to a transformative piece of art. This song celebrates the God who comes to us in our darkest moments to bring peace and joy in the midst of our difficulties.

The prophet Micah proclaims, “from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days … and he shall be the one of peace.” This is the one Mary is carrying in her body and the one for whom she sings her song of joy. This is the one foretold in Micah’s words and the words of other Hebrew prophets. It is the song of the one who comes to fulfill God’s promise. And it is sung by the one who will nurture this child and love him to the end.

Is it any wonder that given these beautiful words, which I have no doubt were repeated many times in Jesus’ life, that he would grow up to preach the following in his very first sermon, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Mary’s Magnificat echoes through the life and teachings of Jesus and our lives as well. It points to God’s promise that was revealed in Jesus and continues wherever Jesus’ followers continue to live out the Good News it proclaims. The overthrow of oppression which Mary foretold announcing that God scatters the proud and dethrones the powerful, lifting up the lowly and providing a feast for the destitute, continues to resound through the centuries. The movement that Jesus’ inaugurated of God’s reign of peace and justice is renewed every Advent when we hear Mary’s song. The soil of every human heart is cultivated anew to receive the implanted seed of God’s promise in Jesus.

Each one of us has a similar song, sung in the depths of our souls that tell our story. A story about a God who was present with us when we were in our mother’s womb. As the psalmist says, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Each of us has a song deep within our hearts, that sings of whom we belong and from where our hope finds its fulfillment. That song shapes our lives. Because Mary’s song is our song too. May we sing it not only with our lips, but as we live it in our lives. And when our final hour arrives, may we hear Mary’s song sounding in our hearts and in our minds as our own, reminding us that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, The God of Mary and Elizabeth and John and Jesus, and the God of every generation as well as our own, is faithful and loving and sings the song of love in our hearts every day of our lives.

John Kavanaugh, the Jesuit priest and scholar writes:

“Our loves and hopes are fragile, growing things. They require nourishment; they take time. Nothing great and enduring happens fast. So we wait; we trust. Could we believe that the promise God wove into our very souls might give birth to something big? Could we hope that something so small and fragile in us could someday walk free and upright and joyous?

The question of every mother who ever birthed a child is the question of our own dear God birthing us, calling us into existence.

Is it worth it all? “Blessed is the one who believed the promise.” So it was with Mary. So it is with God.”

And so it is with each of us!