Posts Tagged 'Magnificat'

For March 23, 2014: The Annunciation, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 7:10-14

With the kingdom of Judah caught between powerful enemies, King Ahaz seeks an alliance with Assyria in defiance of the promise from God that Isaiah has given him. In a reading that is familiar from Advent and Christmas, the Lord offers to prove that the Lord’s intentions are good—but Ahaz refuses.

The Response            Canticle 15

King Ahaz was asked to trust God for an outcome that looked uncertain, and he declined to do so. A girl named Mary, offered a miracle that will turn her life upside down, says yes. Canticle 15, which we know as the Magnificat, is the song of praise that Mary then sings, and the continuation of the gospel for the Annunciation.

The Epistle            Hebrews 10:4-10

Sacrifices and burnt offerings in the Old Testament are intended to atone for sins. Chapter 10 of the book of Hebrews explains how they cannot work. It is Jesus coming to do the will of God that sanctifies us—and in so doing, Jesus gives us a model to follow.

The Gospel            Luke 1:26-38

Like the Old Testament reading and the psalm, this gospel passage is familiar from Advent. Mary, in contrast to King Ahaz, is appropriately perplexed by the angel; she seeks to understand why the angel greets her as he does; and when he gives her a sign, she accepts it and declares her obedience to God’s will.

 

Ponderables

The readings for the feast of the Annunciation play on themes of understanding, obedience, and sacrifice. Ahaz, raised to be a king, nevertheless misunderstands what is being offered and why; he chooses to disobey when obedience would be relatively easy, and the consequence is that he unwittingly sacrifices the good of the nation to his own desperate need to feel in control. Jesus, uniquely begotten by God, understands exactly what the divine plan for the world is and how it involves him; he continually chooses to obey, even to the point of death; and the consequence is that he deliberately sacrifices his own life and human need to feel in control in order to do God’s will in saving even the least of us. Mary, for her part, is the product of a culture that expects her to marry when and how it demands and does not encourage her questions; she nevertheless thinks about what the angel means and asks how things work; and the consequence is that, though she cannot fully foresee all that is being asked of her, she agrees to the potential sacrifice of her good name in the community in order to become the Theotokos—the bearer of God.

Mary is quite rightly held up as a model of human obedience to the Lord—and she questions and ponders. So what if questions and doubts are in fact integral to belief in God? And what if it is this kind of reasoned, questioning human obedience that prepares the way of the Lord?

For Dec. 23, 2012: 4 Advent, Year C

The Reading            Micah 5:2-5a

The eighth-century BC prophet Micah foretold the destruction of Jerusalem for its sins and the sins of its rulers. Like the later prophet Zephaniah in last week’s reading, here Micah offers comfort to the ordinary people and the downtrodden: from little Bethlehem will come a ruler who will gather God’s flock and “be the one of peace.” In Micah’s time this was the righteous king Hezekiah; we now read this as a prophecy of the Messiah.

The Response            Canticle 15, Luke 1:46-55: the Magnificat

The Epistle            Hebrews 10:5-10

On this final Sunday before Christmas, when we might expect more of Paul’s great good joy in the Thessalonians and Philippians, we and the Hebrews instead get a dose of theology: what God wants of us is not ritual sacrifices but right living. The point here is at the core of Christmas: it is Jesus coming to do the will of God that sanctifies us—and it gives us a model to follow.

The Gospel            Luke 1:39-45

 

Further thoughts

Two millennia on, we tend to figure we have a pretty good idea what to expect from this Advent thing: make the cider, wrap the presents, deal with the crowds and the office parties, light the candles, practice the carols… We know the drill, year by year.

Or do we? The year C readings for Advent, summed up in the readings for the fourth Sunday, however, remind us just how unexpected the whole thing is. The King of glory is about to be born—born? God?? This God made man chooses for his birthplace not a center of power like Rome nor an important religious place like Jerusalem but the has-been backwater town of Bethlehem, and not a palace scented with lavender water but a stable that smells of the sweat (and more) of working animals and working people as well. His mother, who by now is hugely and obviously pregnant, is no princess or empress: she is a teenage unwed mother, in a society that frowns mightily on that sort of thing. This God is bound for glory—what God wouldn’t be?—but by way of the most horrible, squalid, shameful death ever. The point of it all is to give hope to those who haven’t had hope.

What’s more, the God about to be born has already made out a Christmas list. Let’s see what’s on it: Piles of gold? No. Yokes of oxen split and burned as a sacrifice? Not even. Clouds of incense to make even the strongest of choirs sneeze? Nice, but optional. No: this God’s Christmas list consists of… me, and you, and the best of our love to be God’s hands and feet and hope-builders.

What kind of God asks for that? Well, I think it takes our whole lives to work out the answer.


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