Saturday, December 20, 2014

Psalms of Advent: Magnification, Joy, and Loss of Control

    The wonder of a late fall sunrise, Jesuit Retreat Center,
    Wernersville, Pa.
    With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.
    He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones  and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever. Luke 1: 46-55
    In just the first chapter of Luke, we have the only birth psalm of the third Gospel that is not spoken by an old guy. Mary, who is "overshadowed" by the Holy Spirit in Luke 1:35 becomes the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy, that of "maidservants" receiving the Holy Spirit. Luke 1:38, Acts 2:18  Mary, who waits with apostles for the Holy Spirit in Acts, becomes the thematic hinge for Luke's two-piece work, Luke-Acts.   
    But when it comes to the words of this psalm, which takes as its title, Mary's soul which in other versions, MAGNIFIES the Lord, like mother, like son. Researchers in faith development once concluded that most enduring faith is the kind a child gets from a mother, even more than from father. It is all about what is actually believed and lived.  
    It shouldn't surprise us that Mary had the key role in Jesus' faith. (Luke 2:58) So much that Jesus, again in Luke, will teach Magnificat values in Luke 6, where he says, almost antiphonally:
    Happy are you who are poor,
        because God’s kingdom is yours.
        Happy are you who hunger now,
        because you will be satisfied...
     But how terrible for you who are rich,
        because you have already received your comfort.
      How terrible for you who have plenty now,
        because you will be hungry.
    In both places, the poor and hungry are filled, the rich and filled are emptied. The lowly are lifted up, the powerful, along with the self-exalted, are "pulled" down. Think of Psalm 146, where the plans of even princes and kings vanish the day they die, where the Lord gives food to the hungry and lifts up those who are bowed down.

    The imaginary and false self with all its pretense that we have life, God, and others under control, is "scattered," like the enemies of God in Maccabees. Meeting this God means the pulling down of the hopes and joys that fill our lives for a few minutes or hours or a few days, then leave us drained. Until the next thrill comes along. The alternative is to let God fill our empty souls, even as we let go of the fake, short- term fillers. 
    This declaration of praise from Mary is her response to God's tender mercy and mother love- the source of a joy that  resounds in the "depths" of who she is. It is enough to overthrow all our illusions of control. For a second, I think of anything that neither I nor life can guarantee, and I'm freer to rejoice and live in the present with the One who is alone is real and whose mercy never runs dry.    

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