There are some stories that put the Advent/Christmas Season in perspective.
Like the story I came across recently, in the following news report.
In recent days, I learned, Prince Albert was officially enthroned as head of state of the tiny city state of Monaco off the coast of the Mediterranean. News reports indicated that Prince Albert- quite a charmer with the ladies it’s said- might have expected all eyes to be on him. Yet the world’s photographers had their cameras trained on the beautiful Princess Charlotte- the 19 year old niece of Prince Albert.
Princess Charlotte was described as a teenager who enjoys horse-riding, skiing, and snow-boarding. At age 5, she received the gift of her own private island, somewhere in the Mediterranean. She’s been shielded from the media in the hope she would be able to lead a “normal life”. Now, I’m thinking; what could a normal life be for someone like this anyway.
I also believe this. If most people in the world were thinking about a young woman who would be the right candidate to become the mother of the Prince of Peace- God’s child- Princess Charlotte would be easily nominated according to our celebrity culture.
She’s rich, beautiful, sheltered and protected; possessed of every advantage.
But God does this strange thing; according to Luke’s Gospel.
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” (Luke 1: 26-38)
Mary has no prominent family or station in life to draw attention to herself. She owns no islands; enjoys no wealth or special protection in a dangerous world. Yet the angel Gabriel speaks of her as the “favored one!” and tells Mary “The Lord is with you.”
What a wonderful detail Luke’s Gospel records in telling us that Mary was “much perplexed” by the angel Gabriel’s words. I feel a whole lot of breathing room in Mary’s response. If Mary, the mother of Jesus the Messiah, receives an angel sent directly from God to tell her she’s favored and she still feels “perplexed”, then there’s hope for me in struggling to know God’s will.
Yet it still seems right to recall Mary’s humble courage, her receiving and carrying and giving birth to Jesus, and her joy as she sang of the saving work of God in human history.
Two lines of her song are especially moving:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Lk 1: 47)
“…he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” (Lk. 1: 48)
Quite often, it seems we separate these two verses of Mary’s song. We church people
feel we know what it means to sing songs that magnify God’s goodness and power.
That’s a praise song we say to ourselves, and there have surely been numerous praise songs to that effect.
But Mary’s song makes a startling affirmation. This magnificent God has looked with favor upon the lowliness of his servant. What a powerful affirmation. God’s magnificence doesn’t come at our expense, or preclude looking upon us as human beings with “favor” and blessing.
When I hear Mary sing that “my song magnifies the Lord” joined with the phrase
He has looked with favor upon the lowliness of his servant, I hear two songs.
I hear the tones of J.S. Bach’s wonderful composition on this text, “The Magnificat”.
And I hear the mood and sound of a great African-American spiritual,
“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; nobody knows the troubles.” Learning Mary’s song entails a celebration of God’s magnificent goodness that leads us to rejoice in our spirits. Learning to sing with Mary also affirms that God looks with favor upon all those struggling with lowliness in life.
Mary sings a song of solidarity with the lowly, with poor mothers who struggle to feed their children. Mary sings with the African mother who carries a water jar on her head to reach water miles away. Mary sings with a mother who worries about the future of her children in a world with gunfire and famine. Mary sings with the single mother who is working to shelter and feed her children. Every mother and father, and every son and daughter, who has been in a low spot, a place of struggle, can know that Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been there with them. We can all learn Mary’s song this Christmas Season. It has far greater power, don’t you think, than singing, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas.”