Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.Since this week’s Lectionary Readings contained an optional reading. We asked our friend, The Reverend John A. Thorpe, if he would step-in and offer a meditation on this reading. He graciously accepted, and we are all blessed because of it. Rev. Thorpe is a graduate of Oral Roberts University (where we became friends), Yale Divinity School, and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He currently serves as the the Rector (Senior Pastor) of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Newton, Iowa.
Week 3: A reading from the Gospel of Luke
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. 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 for ever.
— Luke 1:46-55b (KJV)
Mary’s spontaneous joy comes at a difficult time in her life: she will soon be an unwed mother, in a culture that would ostracize and even kill her for that. She has no money, no ability to support herself, and has risked her relationships with mother and father and fiancée, anyone who could support her – all to say, “Let it be to me as the Lord desires.” That one moment of real spirituality, of vision, of fearlessness, of submission to her God might cost her everything. Mary had nothing to gain but everything to lose.
Mary sings this song to Elizabeth. Elizabeth, too, is with child by a miracle; but rather than risking everything, Elizabeth’s pregnancy is a crowning achievement. Since she had been considered barren, she had been ostracized by society; but God’s action took away her shame. Her husband was at the top of his field, and both were well advanced in age and respect in a culture that respected age. The coming of a baby was no shame to them, but lauded at every turn as a blessing. They had nothing to lose but everything to gain.
Though these two women were vastly different in age and circumstance, they were linked by the divine miracles in their wombs; but even further, they were linked by their willing submission to God’s plan for them and their families. And this submission, more than anything else, leads both women to exult in God’s victory through their pregnancies. Mary’s song is full of praise to God for what He has done – not a word about human action or agency. God is always the actor in this song. Mary finds joy in seeing God’s hand at work, even though it leads her down a difficult path, and even though Elizabeth’s path is happy! There is no jealousy among these cousins, but both find joy in their insight into the character of God.
The lesson for us today is that true joy is to be found not in circumstances, but in God. The more we look around at ourselves, others, the worldliness around us, the more joy we lose. But the more we shut that cacophony out and focus upward on the Lord Himself, the more we find joy. The retail hubbub of the Christmas season has it wrong: joy is not to be found in money and stuff and status and self-indulgence and consumption. Nor is joy to be found in getting our problems solved. Elizabeth praises God for solving her problems; Mary’s problems are just beginning. Joy is to be found only one place: the face of our Lord, Mary’s Lord, Elizabeth’s Lord – Jesus Christ. And no one can have the Joy of the Lord without that crucial step which both Mary and Elizabeth model: willing submission to our loving and Living God. From Mary’s joyful submission, by an act of the Holy Spirit, came Christ into the world. From our joyful submission to the same God, by the act of the same Spirit, Christ can come into our worlds and bring joy, no matter what might be our circumstances.