A Song, An Image, A Promise
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
Some trusted words and images come to my mind during Advent. When we light the Advent candles in worship or in our home, I'm reminded that we are creating a circle of light week by week. It's a circle that will be complete as Advent draws to a close and we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Throughout Advent, "Canticle of the Turning" is a song that repeatedly plays in my home, car, office, and heart. I find the words to be powerfully prophetic.
Advent is a season of preparation and waiting. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ child once again. Advent and Christmas are more than a sweet journey into a beautiful story of our faith. The season invites us to celebrate both Christ's arrival and his return. When we share Holy Communion in Advent, our words can reverberate with even more meaning. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
This week at Grace United Methodist Church, we are turning to another appearance of an angelic messenger. This time, the messenger will speak to Mary, who will become the mother of Jesus. The angel will tell Mary, "Do not be afraid," and, "With God, all things are possible." Mary will then travel to the home of her relative, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Elizabeth's child will become known as John the Baptist, and John will one day help prepare the way for Jesus' ministry to begin.
If we were reading this story for the first time, we might imagine two women sharing the joys and struggles of pregnancy. Likely, they did so during the months they spent together. However, what happened at the outset was a bold declaration of faith, politics, and social commentary. We find what has become known as "Mary's Song" or "The Magnificat" in Luke 1:46-55. Mary sings, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my savior." She goes on to paint a picture of a world that is about to turn,
"He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)
It is often said that we live in a world of "Now and not yet." We might read the words of Mary's song and think, "Yes, but." Scripture describes the kingdom of God in two ways—already here and yet to come. In Mark 1:15, Jesus said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news." Later we read, "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).
Our world today is hardly the just and peaceful place Mary described. We are all too human in our ways of being and only need to glance at the day's headlines for reminders of our imperfections. We are not without hope; we can also see brave and visionary examples of the future kingdom that Isaiah described.
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord's house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
…they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:2,4b)
This Advent, I find myself longing for the kingdom Isaiah described and mindful that the kingdom has already come near. That's when the lyrics of "Canticle of the Turning" come back to me. The song expresses the world's pain alongside the hope and promise of Mary's song.
Though the nations rage from age to age
Who holds us fast
God's mercy must deliver us from the conqueror's crushing grasp
This saving word that our forebears
Heard is the promise which holds us bound
'Til the spear and rod can be
Crushed by God
Who is turning the world around
My heart shall sing of the day you bring
Let the fires of your justice burn
Wipe away all tears
For the dawn draws near
And the world is about to turn!
We light the candles. The circle of light grows stronger. And we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”