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Third Week of Advent: Magnificat

Luke 1:46-56 KJV

And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:

for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

He hath shewed strength with his arm;

he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.

And Mary abode with [Elizabeth] about three months, and returned to her own house.

She believed.  She remembered.  All those Uncle Arthur bedtime stories.  Remembered the time God washed Pharaoh’s army into the sea.  Remembered when God fed the wandering Israelites with manna and quail.  Remembered when Nebuchadnezzar nibbled grass like a cow.  Remembered when the child Joash became king.  Mary remembered God’s characteristic blessing and exalting of the humble, and knew it to be true again in her very own self.

It seems to be the clearest pattern in Scripture, particularly in Jesus’ life.  God is persistently coming to people in slavery, poverty, homelessness, prison and death, while making foolish and ridiculous the wisdom, strength and wealth of the upper crust.  The mystery of God becoming human through a humble young woman and a baby in a manger is an echo of this truth.  Emmanuel—God is with and in our earthy, fully human existence.

Mary is an archetype of the feminine in all of us—man or woman—sometimes hidden or subverted, but always present and available, inviting us to embrace what appears small, unimportant, embarrassing, weak.  She knew her strength, the miracle of her body that would knit Life out of God’s seed.  Richard Rohr writes, “Mary is a woman who is profoundly self-possessed.  She can hold her power comfortably because she knows it is from Beyond.  She can also give it away.  Power, dignity, and blessedness are hers to hold, offer back, and proudly acclaim in her great Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).  This woman knows her boundaries, her ground, and her gift.  Her dignity is not earned or attained. It is.”[1]

And I believe it is inherent within each of us, regardless of gender—the potential and power for mothering life. Mothers are dangerous, in the way Clarissa Pinkola Estes means.  They will stop “at nothing to nourish, protect, and guide.”  They guard and shelter something that “should not be allowed to pass away from this earth.”[2]

Mothers are queens of hospitality, welcoming the runny-nosed, stinky-diapered, whining.

What would it be like for me, for you, to remember this identity?  It would go against much of what our culture and religions practice.  Identifying with the outcast, acknowledging and even honoring the scary and discomforting parts of our society and selves.  Marianne Williamson’s well-known celebration of God-breathed humanity, her magnificat, is worth repeating:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.[3]

Unwed mothers, undocumented immigrants, homosexuals, prisoners on death row, sweat shop workers.  I’m sure you could add to the list of people to “revile.”  Take a closer look, inward, at the places in you that have been ignored, feared, shunned.  It really is these very qualities that God dreams of unleashing, of birthing.  But we have to go into the darkness to bring them into the light.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, Advent is a season of darkness.  The days grow shorter.  Sure, there are still twenty-four hours in each of them, yet the hours of the sun’s gaze are fewer and fewer.  We wait longer for sunrise and watch it set earlier every evening.  It is the season of death, dormancy and waiting.  It is a liminal space in which we light candles to remind us of the luminosity to come.

Descent into darkness is necessary to all life, to transformation and to fresh, new revelations of God.  Even in darkness, something is forming.  We recite the promise of Messiah’s coming, remembering the months of gestation preceding Jesus’ birth.  We declare, “This is our God—the One who scatters the proud, puts down the mighty, exalts the lowly, fills the hungry, sends the rich away empty, creates beauty and brilliance within our womb, mothers the world with fierce and tender love.” 

What yet unborn soul-gift in you is waiting to bless the world?  And what would it take to nurture it into fullness?  How terrifying and empowering would it be to really see the dignity of yourself and everyone else: that all are blessed?

[1] Richard Rohr. Radical Grace: Daily Meditations. St. Anthony Messenger, 1995. From Day 3, p. 5.

[2]Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  The Dangerous Old Woman: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman Archetype.  Sounds True, 2010.

[3]Marianne Williamson. A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles.Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3.

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