The Magnificat rejoices in a God who acts within human history.
Now and then, someone will ask me “what kind of Christian” I am. I never used to know how to respond. I would ramble on about how I’m sort of a theological moderate, though it’s not that helpful to think of us Christians as existing on a linear continuum, and I’m less focused than some of the Christians I grew up with on individual salvation, not that I think it doesn’t matter, and I’m wary of efforts to convert people of other faiths, which isn’t to say that I don’t value evangelism or the uniqueness of Christ... By this point the person typically lost interest in my endless run-on sentence of negative definition and preemptive defensiveness. I was left wishing I’d just said, “Lutheran.” Then came the 2008 election and the Matthew 25 Network.
Vivaldi wrote his Magnificat for a choir of female orphans to sing for their supper. They were truly singing Mary's song.
Like many pastors, I remember clearly the first sermon I ever preached. It was during my second semester of seminary, and I probably worked on it for 50 hours. Each detail was written and rewritten until I was confident I had produced the greatest theological document by a seminarian in quite some time.
Christians have always been uncomfortable with the Magnificat. Advent takes us places we would rather not go.
I’m taking a class on the Gospel of Luke this semester, and one of my assignments is to engage in an ongoing spiritual practice related to that particular Gospel. So for the entire semester I am reading the Magnificat daily. It’s a passage that I’ve been drawn to in recent years, but it has been particularly illuminating to be dwelling on it during Lent this year, since it is typically confined to the Advent season. Somehow the triumphal language of the justice that God has already accomplished fits with the modern treatment of Advent as a celebratory season. But Lent is a season of penance, which puts an entirely different spin on the text.
The greatest Christmas carol in history was not written by Irving Berlin or Nat King Cole. The greatest carol is not “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” or “White Christmas” or even “Silent Night.” The greatest carol was composed 2,000 years ago by a pregnant teenage girl who was visiting her cousin Elizabeth.
My favorite Christmas book is The Donkey’s Dream, which is about the journey Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem. Meant for young children, Barbara Helen Berger’s story is a brilliant and subtle work of theology. Or perhaps antitheology, as it allows simple images to tell us more than words can convey about what the incarnation signifies.