Thursday, December 23, 2010

My soul magnifies the Lord

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord."

And Mary said:

"My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;

For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me,

And holy is His name.

And His mercy is on those who fear Him

From generation to generation.

He has shown strength with His arm;

He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

And exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

And the rich He has sent away empty.

He has helped His servant Israel,

In remembrance of His mercy,

As He spoke to our fathers,

To Abraham and to his seed forever."

And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

- Luke 1:39-56

In yesterday's reading, we read of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, the kinswoman of Elizabeth. Gabriel tells Mary: "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" And he goes on to tell her that she will bear a son, who shall be called Jesus ("God is salvation"). Mary wonders how this can be, and Gabriel tells her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible."

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth is in the sixth month of her pregnancy, and Mary has just been made aware of what is to come - her own pregnancy. My study bible says here: "The babe, John the Baptist in his sixth month of gestation, leaped in her womb (see v. 15) as a joyous response to the presence of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, in Mary's womb." In the Eastern church, there is a traditional perspective on Mary during her pregnancy with Jesus, that she contained the whole universe in her womb, as she carried the incarnation of its Creator. This scene teaches us of relatedness and ties - these are kinswomen, but at the same time the Holy Spirit works to unite them all in understanding and purpose and spiritual truth. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit by the very greeting of Mary.

Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" A note in my study bible says, "Mary receives veneration from both angels and humans. For as did Gabriel (v. 28), Elizabeth also calls Mary blessed. Mary is the model of womanhood. None other has ever received the glory given to her, either in Scripture or in Church history." The "filling of the Holy Spirit" gives Elizabeth an immediate understanding. There is a palpable sense here of touch, of contact, and by that contact the gifts of the Holy Spirit of wisdom and knowledge that fills both women and contains their relationship with one another, and in the great drama for the whole world that is to come, in which each of their sons will play a part.

"But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" A note here reads: "Mary is confessed as the mother of my Lord by Elizabeth. This was no mere man Mary carried. The title 'Theotokos' (the mother of God), given to the Virgin Mary by the Church, was derived from the truth of this confession. For unless that One in her womb was God, the world is still enslaved to sin." Mary's understanding - given to her by Gabriel - is echoed here in the words of Elizabeth, who perceives according to the Holy Spirit. The amazing contact, touch, extension and illumination of the Spirit in this scene is a model of our understanding of the power of this Spirit and how He works with us, among us.

"For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord." Elizabeth confirms what Mary has been told by Gabriel. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she communicates to Mary and shares with her the good news from God. The Holy Spirit creates this connectedness between us, works this way among us -- these two women, bearing two babes, show us the way.

And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever." And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house. My study bible has a long note which I will quote on this passage: "This passage (called the Magnificat, the first word of this song in Latin) is a remarkable hymn of praise to God. It comes from the heart of Mary, who was probably only 16 or 17 years old at the time, but also from Hannah, advanced in years, who first uttered this inspired prayer (1 Sam. 2:1-10), which had been prayed by expectant Jewish mothers for centuries. From this New Testament passage we learn: (1) Christian believers for all time will honor or venerate the Virgin, for all generations will call me blessed (v. 48). . . . (2) Identity between Mary and Israel is implicit here as the Israel of God, the Church, receives His mercy (v. 54). (3) The reign of God is over (a) our hearts (v. 51), (b) kings and rulers (v. 52), (3) the poor (v. 52) and the rich (v. 55), and (d) the faithful of God (v. 54)."

I see in this wonderful prayer the connection to the whole history of Israel, the people of God, as it echoes the prayer of Hannah. The Holy Spirit creates ties not only among those who share their lives as contemporaries, but extends through time to connect us even to others through experience, meaning, learning, understanding. And it extends not only through the past and those who have come before, but into the future: "henceforth all generations will call me blessed." For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. There is an action of mercy, a lifting up of the state of the humble who serve - and an extension: this mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. This mercy overturns the order of things: the arrogant and conceited are knocked from their places, while the lowly are lifted up. God's strength becomes the strength of the meek and humble; in God's mercy His power is shared with those who love Him. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. God fills those who are empty, and sends away those who do not and cannot share that mercy themselves. It is an overturning of the order - and those who hunger and thirst for this righteousness and mercy are filled, just as Elizabeth and Mary are filled with the Holy Spirit. He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever. Again, the story of these women is reflected in the whole of the people of Israel, those who serve God, and the Spirit extends its connection throughout the whole of this history, as it is connected throughout all of the Scripture and the Good News. Mary's connection, then, is not merely with her kinswoman Elizabeth and not merely through the ties that will bind their sons in this central historical drama of the Scriptures, but it is with all of us, and all of history. The Holy Spirit does His work in all of us, for each of us, and this story is truly for each of us as well. When we seek to pray and enter in dialogue with our Creator, this story is for all of us, for each of us, and the ties that this Spirit builds extend through each of us, and throughout our spiritual history, and into the future and those who are to come and choose also to be a part of this reality, to be filled with the good things of this Spirit. We are all the "living stones" who fill the earth with the connectedness of this Spirit and the communion and communication He creates among us, within us. All contained in Mary's womb is this universe of creativity and power, that will shake up our world, and fill us with good things. How do you contain that magnitude of gift within yourself? How do you share it with the world, with others? With whom do you make that connection, as did Mary and Elizabeth? Let prayer be the action of the Spirit for you today, and take notice of what happens, and how you feel connected in His work. "My soul magnifies the Lord," Mary said. Truly, so may we all.


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