“With all my heart I praise the Lord, and I am glad because of God my Savior. He cares for me, his humble servant. From now on, all people will say God has blessed me. God All-Powerful has done great things for me, and his name is holy.” (Luke 1: 46-49, CEV)
This passage from Luke is often referred to as Mary’s song. A heartfelt response to an encounter with a heavenly being. There is debate as to whether these are words spoken and sung by a very young, 14 or 15-year-old, Mary, or whether it was the older, much later Luke who 70(ish) years later wrote this story to emphasize the prophesies that would be fulfilled through the birth of a child, God embodied.
Whomever first told this story, in the first century the fate of a pregnant woman who was not married would have been exclusion. Exclusion from home. From her congregation. From her village. From all she had ever known. Just before we hear Mary’s song today, a heavenly messenger had told her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth…” (Luke 1: 30-31a, CEB).
Don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
You will conceive and give birth.
I can just imagine what my responses would have been to the disorienting appearance of an ethereal being giving me unexpected news. It would have been a huge WHAT??? followed by lots of question and exclamation marks. WHAT??!!??!? I will conceive a child? What sort of Holy, unexpected sort of thing is this? A joke? Holy Foolishness?
But unlike my reaction, Mary bursts forth in song. Song! She surges with unrestrained joy. Encountering God is like that. Finding Holy Joy… is like that.
What about you? Have you ever had a God moment beat in your heart? Recently, I have heard two spirit song stories here—and I have a third to share with you as well. This week, a Christmas card arrived in my church mailbox. Inside, was a hymn. The sender of the card wrote that, “As this Thanksgiving and Christmas season approached; once again, an old familiar melody started running through my mind. I could not recall the title or all the words as I looked for and found them in an old hymnal.”
But this person had found the hymn and enclosed it in the letter. The tune was “Open My Eyes That I May See” by Clara H. Scott:
Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth Thou hast for me.
Place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for Thee, ready, my God, Thy will to see.
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!
I read the letter with amazement. Because this wasn’t the first time I’d heard this exact same story from someone else. Another story of a song stirring, unbidden, deep in the person’s spirit and mind. Urgently. Godly. Insisting on being released. Over the past few months, there has been another person who has mentioned multiple times that there is a hymn, a rhythm, words, that have fuzzily come to their mind… that wouldn’t let them go. There was an echo of a familiar, yet not remembered, tune. They heard the song, knew it… but not quite. It was always just out of reach. After a little research, some help from another.. and THERE it was. Love Divine. The words in the New Century Hymnal (#43) are:
Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, on earth be found,
Fix in us a humble dwelling, all your faithful mercies crown;
Jesus, you are all compassion; pure unbounded love impart.
Visit us with your salvation, enter every trembling heart.
What about you? Have you ever had a similar experience?
I have. This is my song. The song that picked me. This year is the 300th anniversary of the hymn Joy to the World. And THAT is my ear worm. Now, Joy to the World is not my favorite hymn. It is not even my favorite Christmas carol. But the rhythm, the tune, the “Oh no, there’s that song again,” is the pace of my life. Not by my choice, but by some neurological, God Stirred, breath resonating, movement triggering truth of who I am. Joy to the World just always bubbles forth.
For example, I can be walking in the woods, walking down the street, and suddenly I realize that I am hearing, and walking to the pace of, Joy to the World. The same thing regularly happens when I am out riding my bike. With each rotation of the pedals I am hearing, “Joy to the world…” It can happen with something so day-to-day like sitting at my desk, chewing gum, and I realize that I am chewing to the beats of “Joy to the world…”
So, you would think with all of these songs, and Mary’s song emerging in today’s sacred story that we… might… just… sing… Joy to the World this morning. Or maybe Mary’s song. However, it is not Christmas…yet. Jesus has not yet been born. We are, in these week’s of Advent, waiting. Waiting for that deep, God Stirred Song, to resonate around the world. And so we wait to sing Christmas songs in church.
In our day-to-day lives, the constant barrage of Breaking News can distract us from the ever-present Holy Joy that sings in the sky and nature around us, resonates in our relationships… and beats on our hearts. The radical resistance of Advent is that we are to purposefully WATCH FOR THOSE JOYS.
You KNOW that there was breaking news this week. In fact, it often seems like the evening news opens with 3, or 4, breaking stories—and then breaks in with more Breaking News.
In the resistance, what about you? Did you watch for God’s promised day this week? Did you catch glimpses of joy?
Not to mention the 4th-not-yet-here week of Advent, Love?
Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid.
You will conceive and give birth.
The whole world will conceive and give birth to the Divine.
What about it? Have you seen any Holy Joy this week?
Here are some examples I caught:
- I encountered Holy Joy a few cold nights ago. As I left church, there was a full moon outside. Walking to my car, I heard a great horned owl. She sounded close. I couldn’t see her, but I’m sure she saw me.
- Another evening I met with one of the teens at Memorial. They wanted to ask questions about God, and “why church.” At some point I asked the youth what problem do they want to solve? The response was, “I love being a mentor with people who have cognitive and/or physical challenges. I think I want to be a Special Education Teacher.” The enthusiasm and smile they shared was joy-filled.
- There is endless joy in the youth lead movements emerging around the world. We are witnessing youth being leaders now, organizing climate marches, speaking out for safety in schools, malls, theaters, without the fear of gun shots ringing out, and speaking before the United States Congress and the United Nations. The roots of the challenges to which they speak are multiple, but the hope for heaven to be here on earth… brings moments of Holy Joy.
God’s promised day. It is now. Not in some imaginary future, but now. This is the Holy Joy of Mary’s song.
Remember the card sender I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon? They ended their note by writing, “I hope you will find occasion to use the hymn during the Christmas season…” To that person, yes— I found an occasion to use the hymn—and Mary’s song, and all of our songs… as today’s reflection. Thank you for that gift.
With great joy, I give you all thanks. Thanks to each and every one of you, the people in this faith community who reveal God’s promised day through story and song, caring and helping, laughter and creativity, and all of the other Holy Joys that sing in this place.
Reflection on Luke 1:47-55 offered 12.15.19