In the Lectionary

December 23, Advent 4C (Luke 1:39-55)

Motherhood and ministry are intertwined for me.

On the day of my ordination, I felt my unborn daughter kick for the first time. I wish I could say that my awareness of her tiny movements began as I recited the vow to serve God “with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love”—or that she somersaulted in utero as I knelt beneath the weight of the laying on of hands. Instead, her fetal dance moves made their debut a few hours before the ordination service, while I ironed the wrinkles out of my brand new red stole. Those tiny kicks turned ironing into holy work as I marveled at a single day so pregnant with new beginnings.

Motherhood and ministry have intertwined for me ever since. I am a mother, and because of the depth of the bonds I share with my children, I cannot read or interpret the Bible otherwise. I am drawn to its mothers—named and unnamed, those whose stories are woven into the biblical narrative and those whose stories are hidden between its lines. I weep with Hagar as she fears her son Ishmael will die in the desert (Gen. 21:16). I sing praise with the psalmist who compares her contented soul to the disposition of a child who has nursed to its fill (Ps. 131:2). I demand justice alongside the Syrophoenician woman who begs Jesus to heal her daughter (Mark 7:26, Matt. 15:22). And, especially during Advent, I rejoice with Elizabeth and Mary as they await the births of John and Jesus in this week’s reading from the Gospel of Luke.

Reading this passage, we often zero in on the Magnificat, through which Mary echoes Hannah’s song of thanksgiving at the dedication of Samuel to the Lord (1 Sam. 2). Mary’s song recalls not only the arc of salvation history but also the tendency of Israel’s God to turn the world’s order on its head. Her confession soars with the music of gratitude and deep faith that magnifies what God has done, is doing, and will do. With its poetic proclamation of God’s love made manifest, the Magnificat deserves our attention—but there remain other treasures to be mined from this passage.