Rev. Rosemarie C. Smurzynski
Opening Words: Isaiah 35:4
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
"Be strong, fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
God will come and save you.
Scripture Reading: Luke 1:47-55
"...my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God's servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
the Mighty One whose name is holy.
God's mercy is for those who fear God
from generation to generation.
God has shown great strength;
and has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
God has helped God's servant Israel,
in remembrance of God's mercy,
according to the promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants forever."
For thirteen years I took spiritual direction with Sandra, an oblate at Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, MA. Every Friday afternoon for those years I did battle with the south bound traffic on route ninety-three out of Boston. I arrived at the Abbey at four, relieved. The Abbey was a place of calm, a time for quiet, a break from the busy world beyond its gate.
Spiritual direction was from four to five. At five my spiritual director and I heard the chapel bell signal Vespers was about to begin. From five-fifteen to five forty-five we sat in the Abbey’s sanctuary for prayer. We sang the psalms in Gregorian chant. And always a phrase in a psalm lifted up a challenge I had brought with me to spiritual direction. Sometimes the psalm’s words brought a smile to my lips, but mostly the words brought on a tear which rolled down my cheek. I never brushed away the tear. I saw it as a sign which reminded me: “Rosemarie’s alive!” Each psalm drew me deeper and deeper into God’s world. With a gentle knock on the side of the organ the organist signaled silent time between psalms before we moved along to the next one. The pause was long enough for the tear to dry. And then we sang it—the Magnificat—Mary’s praise song which ended our chanting for evening prayer.
Mary speaks: “My soul magnifies God…” To magnify means to make larger or as other translations offer: Magnificat anima mea Dominum translates magnificat to “glorifies or praises.” “My soul glorifies God” Mary sings. This praise she offers in grim circumstances: she sings in spite of the cruel culture of Roman rule in Palestine and in spite of her pregnancy. Mary sings and Luke records the old, old song, older than Mary even, for generations to come to find quiet, peace and solace in the words.
What really brings me joy in Mary’s words is that it is a woman speaking prophetic words. Only four places in the Bible, Hebrew and New, do woman break forth in prophetic song. And now all the generations hear and know how Mary speaks, as Hannah speaks in Samuel, as we speak when our hearts want something or need something: is it to be assured that all manner of things were, are and will be well?
And, curiously, Mary’s speaks in the present perfect tense which links the past and the present. She tells us: “God has shown great strength; has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Mary speaks as a prophet speaks giving praise for all good gifts that come from heaven above. And are still coming! The past is the present is the future.
Also as historian Mary’s song reminds us God has helped God's servant Israel ... according to the promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants, forever." That’s us, folks!
Bach knew the power of the Bible birth narrative in Luke, especially as it moved along and was sung by Mary. In 1723 for a Christmas Eve service Bach translated Mary’s message into his notes. John Rutter in our time picks up the message in more modern music dress. Meanwhile Mary has given her words to the world. She tells us: “I am blessed and this is how I have understood that blessing: “God has helped God's servant Israel, in remembrance of God's mercy.” God’s mercy has remembered us forever.
As Psalm singing prepared me for Mary’s song, Mary’s song prepared me for what came last: the spoken radical prayer of Jesus which in turn sent me out into the culture again. This time I am prepared with spiritual sustenance to engage that culture. The ride up route ninety-three toward Boston, still in stop and go traffic, after my sojourn at the Abbey always went more smoothly. Amen
Response: based on the Lambeth Bible Study method.
- What word or phrase in the Magnificat catches your attention?
- Where does the passage touch your life?
- From what you have discerned from reading and reflecting on the passage what do you believe God wants you to do or to be?
- Is God inviting you into a new way of being?
Prayer: adapted from a Christmas prayer by A. Powell Davies.
O God, we thank you that at the darkest time of year there comes the brightest celebration.
Let us believe in its promise that sometime there shall be a world in which peace and goodwill shall prevail.
O God, quiet our fears, revive our spirits and renew our hopes.
Let Mary’s song be heard in our hearts and let us sing it back as one chorus.
May the light of the season brighten our lives and guide our feet.
May the spirit of Jesus be born in us also,
and may his truth direct us. Amen.